Fracking inquiry: MPs mustn’t rob local authorities of planning powers, urges Green MEP

Green MEP, Keith Taylor, has called on MPs to ensure the democratic power to make planning decisions about fracking applications is not “robbed” from local authorities.

The senior Green politician’s interjection comes as the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee discuss a proposal to bypass local authorities in the decisionmaking process, related to applications for shale gas exploration.

During the evidence session on Monday, 30 April, Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of the oil and gas industry body UKOOG appeared to urge MPs to take local councils out of the planning process.

Responding to the session, Mr. Taylor, who has made a written submission to the inquiry, said:

“Obviously the oil, gas and fracking industry wants to cut out the pesky middleman of local democracy, as they see it, because it is more difficult and cumbersome to court and lobby local authorities representing the affected local communities than it is to woo a Conservative government already in its back pocket. The more disconnected the process is from the people it affects, the less the industry has to worry about the community, climate and environmentally damaging effects of its operations.”

Mr. Taylor continued:

“There is strong evidence that the onshore oil and gas industry is already failing and alienating local communities, particularly across the Weald in my constituency. Both because of the confusion over the difference between scientific definitions of conventional and unconventional extraction techniques and the Government’s industry-skewed definitions and due to the industry’s failure to listen to and engage with those affected by its operations.”

“The predictable consequences are that firms are failing to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of their activities, and trust has all but broken down between residents and the industry – and, as a knock-on effect, decision-makers generally. In fact, I have carried out research that revealed that 77% of residents living near drilling sites surveyed in the South East said they had no contact from oil and gas companies at any stage in the planning process. This is in stark contrast to the Charter on Public Engagement of the Onshore Oil and Gas Group (UKOOG), which commits its members to consult at the earliest stage of plan development.”

Mr. Taylor, European Chair of the Climate Parliament and a member of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee, instead, called for changes to the planning guidance to strengthen the influence of local communities. Concluding, he added:

“I have huge concerns about the impacts promoting fossil fuel extraction is continuing to have on the UK’s carbon targets and the transition we must urgently make to a low carbon economy. Ultimately, these paramount considerations are not addressed anywhere in the guidance. Instead, it seeks to blindly promote fracking. There not even a cursory attempt to balance the contested benefits of a risky industry against the all too real and established disadvantages of environmental degradation and the climate breakdown.”

“Ministers are trying to keep it under wraps but leaked report after leaked report reveals that there is no economic or energy security case for fracking while the environmental and climate-destructive impacts are widely-known.”