The following is the full text of a letter sent from Lancashire County Council’s leader Jennifer mean to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Dear Mr Clark
I have read with interest and concern a number of reports in the media this week about the Government’s plans to support the roll out of a shale gas industry in the United Kingdom, as set out in your letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer dated 7 July 2015. You will be aware that such matters have particular resonance in Lancashire, given the history of local planning applications and this being the location of the UK’s most recent fracking operations.
I would like to highlight my particular concern about any intention to take decision-making powers on shale gas related planning applications away from local communities.
It is abundantly clear from the response of our communities to recent planning applications that there is considerable public interest in these matters. As part of a visible and local democratic process, people from across Lancashire have invested significant time in expressing their views. The county council received and made publicly available a huge amount of relevant information about each application. Residents, business people and a wide range of other individuals and organisations took time to consider it and gathered their own evidence, which they had a meaningful opportunity to present to councillors as part of the planning process.
In turn, locally elected representatives considered at length all of the information presented to them by all parties who chose to contribute before, again very publicly, making their decisions.
The themes of accountability and transparency are at the heart of good government and they are achieved most effectively when decisions are made thoughtfully within the communities they affect by people who are locally elected, accessible and familiar with local issues. The devolution agenda rightly gives impetus to that notion. A proposal to take important decisions away from our communities would, I believe, do the opposite and undermine trust in our democratic process. On a practical level, the opportunity to exert local control through planning conditions (informed by local understanding) on matters such as noise and traffic control is important and will itself help to underpin confidence in the process.
I would urge you to ensure that any changes to the planning regime on these matters do not serve to bypass local decision making powers and to ensure that local communities are able to continue to have a strong voice in decisions which clearly affect them.
With reference to some of the other points in your letter, one of the concerns identified by the county council, including through a health impact assessment led by our Director of Public Health, is the damaging effect of a lack of information and assurance about the potential long term impact of fracking. If the Government succeeds in accelerating this agenda, it should not do so without thought for the communities living and working near to fracking sites, wherever they may be. Clear information and evidence is needed on key issues such as concerns about health, and people deserve to be informed by real facts rather than speculation or partial viewpoints.
To that end I would draw your attention to the Notice of Motion supported unanimously by our county councillors as long ago as October 2013. The county council called on the Government to establish industry-specific regulation which, implemented effectively, could go some way to addressing these issues. The same Notice of Motion added that industry- specific regulation must ensure that local planning control is maintained. I enclose a copy of the full Notice of Motion for reference.
Leader of Lancashire County Council
Notice of Motion
“Further to the motion regarding Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Shale Type Rock which was passed by Lancashire County Council in December 2012, this Council:
a.The debate about benefits and disbenefits of extracting on-shore gas resources and the local environmental impacts
b.That large amounts of water are needed for hydraulic fracturing to extract shale.
c.The risk of groundwater contamination as a result of fracking where well integrity is compromised.
d.The impacts of noise, visual intrusion and air pollution from heavy traffic in communities close to fracking sites
e.Increasing concerns over potential direct and indirect impacts on human health and wellbeing, and awaits investigation into those concerns
f. that potential economic benefits need to be carefully balanced against the potential disbenefits to other sectors such as tourism and agriculture and to the opportunity for investment in the renewable energy sector;
g. the conflicting claims about whether UK shale gas will affect energy prices in the UK
ii. reiterates its call on the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to introduce Industry Specific regulation of hydraulic fracturing for the UK shale gas industry, as there are still no specific onshore exploration or extraction regulations for natural gas (and the offshore regulations developed in the 1990s are not sufficient to address all the issues that arise from moving the process onshore especially in populated areas of Lancashire);
iii) demands that such industry specific regulation must ensure that local planning control is maintained and that there should be a regular and rigorous inspection regime;
iv. will seek to attract to the county appropriate funding for projects which increase energy efficiency, sustainability and self-sufficiency, stabilise energy bills, and create jobs in the green economy.”