County says it wants the final say over fracking plans

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Lancashire County Council will tell the government that it wants to keep control over any future fracking activity in the area.

A public consultation on proposals to overhaul the planning system for fracking applications is due to end next week. The authority’s cabinet has approved a response which will outline its opposition to the plans.

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The government wants the exploratory phase of fracking to be classed as ‘permitted development’. That would mean companies like Cuadrilla – which is poised to begin fracking at its Preston New Road site – would not need planning permission for any of the work which it first carried out to investigate whether there are suitable reserves of shale gas underground.

Cabinet member for the environment, Michael Green, said the proposed change would damage public trust.

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“The planning process can be argued sometimes to stifle or delay development – but we consider that the proposal…risks undermining public confidence in the ability of the planning system to control development,” Cllr Green said.

The government has said that it is committed to local communities being “fully involved” in planning decisions which affect them. But the council will argue that the use of permitted development – an option usually reserved for the likes of small-scale property alterations – will leave locals “no opportunity…to have a say in development that would potentially have significant local impacts”.

Under the plans, permission would still be required from local authorities for the fracking process itself. However, Lancashire will claim that such applications would become more difficult to reject – because any of the perceived negative effects of the development would already have occured during exploratory drilling.

The government is also seeking to include shale gas development on its list of nationally-significant infrastructure projects. Applications for full-scale fracking would then be made directly to Whitehall – and although councils would be able to offer their view, they would lose their final say.

Michael Green told cabinet members that the council had “concerns” over the proposal. “We wish to keep planning decisions determined at a local level by the application of the proper planning rules and regulations,” he said.

Lancashire County Council will say that it backs a local government select committee report earlier this year which concluded that the link between local plans and major decisions over developments like fracking would be lost under the proposal.

A meeting of the full council supported a motion to oppose the government’s suggested changes in July.

When it launched the consultation, the government said it wanted to speed up the “disappointingly slow” process of determining fracking applications.

Decisions are supposed to be reached within a statutory 16-week period. Lancashire County Council took more than a year to refuse Cuadrilla’s application for the Preston New Road site in 2015 – and it was a further twelve months before the government overturned it.

The company’s application for exploratory work in Roseacre Wood is still to be determined following the reopening of a public inquiry earlier this year – more than four years after the plan, also rejected by county hall in 2015, was first lodged.