‘Let Lancashire decide on fracking’: politicians demand to keep local control over future drilling proposals
Lancashire County Council has called on the government to pledge that local politicians will be allowed to make the final decision on any future proposals for fracking in the area.
The demand was made as part of a motion which also sought to establish exactly what Prime Minister Liz Truss meant when she said that shale gas extraction would go ahead only in those places where there was “local community support” for it.
Fracking was on the agenda at a meeting of the full council on Thursday afternoon following the announcement last month that the government was lifting the moratorium – a temporary ban – on the process, which was put in place in 2019 in the wake of a 2.9-magnitude earth tremor in the vicinity of energy firm Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road drilling site in Little Plumpton. The motion was brought forward by Green Party group leader Gina Dowding who said that Ms. Truss had “failed to define” how local community consent for fracking would be measured.
“Who is going to be consulted – one person per household, everyone in the house, children who stand to be affected most by the long-term impacts of fracking? [Perhaps via] a referendum – maybe it’s one of those Putin-style referendums where we know the answer before they’ve even done it. “But what’s absolutely clear is that people in Lancashire have already said no to fracking.”
“Public opinion is against fracking, local Tory MPs are against fracking, local Tory ministers are against fracking – and what’s worse is the planet can’t hack fracking,” County Cllr Dowding said as she opened the debate at County Hall.
Her concerns over community consent were echoed across the chamber, with County Cllr John Singleton – the Conservative member for the Fylde West division – demanding a “hard and fast definition for the phrase ‘local community support’”.
He added: “In my opinion, such local community support should only be measured in the areas where fracking is being considered,” he said, noting that Fylde Council had passed a “similar” motion this week.
Tory cabinet member for economic development and growth Aidy Riggott said that it was one of two “key issues” to be considered – the other being to ensure that the county council did not do anything that could result in the authority being legally challenged about any decisions it subsequently makes over fracking.
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali sought to add to the motion the request for the government to commit to decision-making on fracking remaining “solely with locally-elected councillors” on the relevant local planning authority – which, for fracking applications, would be Lancashire County Council itself.
“The reasoning behind this is very simple,” he explained.
“The government has the powers…to look at a planning application and deem it to be of national importance or national infrastructure. And [given] the way that the government has said that fracking is going to be a silver bullet to our energy needs, [they] could quite easily – [as with] the coal mine planning issue in Cumbria – …decide to take it and make it into a decision for the cabinet minister for communities and levelling up.”