Will locals have a say on future fracking plans?

Cuadrilla's drilling rig at Little Plumpton.
Cuadrilla's drilling rig at Little Plumpton.
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Lancashire County Council is being urged to defend its role in deciding whether fracking applications should be given the go-ahead.

Lancashire County Council is being urged to defend its role in deciding whether fracking applications should be given the go-ahead.

Gina Dowding, a Green Party councillor on the authority, has condemned a government proposal which could see councils bypassed in the planning process.

County Cllr Dowding branded the move - which is subject to consultation - as “desperation by the government to fast-track [fracking] without democratic accountability”. She has secured a debate on the subject at a meeting of the full council on Thursday.

Lancashire County Council rejected an application by Cuadrilla Resources to explore for shale gas at a site in Little Plumpton near Blackpool in 2015. The decision was overturned on appeal by the then Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, a year later.

Describing the present system - as “bad enough”, County Cllr Dowding said: “If the government doesn’t like a decision a local community has made, it will take it out of its hands, but at least people [currently have] a chance to object.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) outlined plans to “streamline” the process for shale gas exploration back in May.

A public consultation is due to be launched over whether shale gas exploration should be reclassified as “permitted development”, which would mean a local planning application would not be required. The government is also considering whether to include fracking on a list of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).

County Cllr Dowding, who represents Lancaster Central, said: “I think there’s an irony that the government allows wind farms to be determined at a local level and [yet] there’s no doubt that fracking has a far greater impact.

“It’s the local community that bears all the risks. Fracking uses millions of gallons of water per well and that comes back to the surface as waste fluid - it’s basically toxic water that has to be disposed of.”

In a statement, Cuadrilla Resources said: “Flowback fluid from our operations is separated out into solids, water, condensate and gases, which will then be stored temporarily on site and removed to an appropriate water treatment facility permitted by the Environment Agency.”

A parliamentary select committee report into the government’s proposal to change the planning process for fracking said it would “result in a significant loss to local decision-making, exacerbating mistrust between local communities and the fracking industry.”

The cross-party committee added that it was essential for local planning authorities to be able to include conditions about shale gas exploration in their local plans, provided they do not “arbitrarily” restrict fracking.

MHCLG did not respond to a request for comment.