Response to Government consultation on fracking planning

fracking site with "We said no" banner

The government is currently undertaking two “consultations” relating to fracking. One to allow exploratory drilling to be undertaken under “permitted development” the other to make fracking operations “national infrastructure”. The effect of these would be to remove ANY local input into planning for fracking. The first removing the need for planning permission. The second making it a national not a local issue and removing any council say.

The consultations can be found at:

Below are the proposed responses from York Green Party, based on responses developed by Keith Taylor MEP. Available at https://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/sites/default/files/download/2018-09/Say%20no%20to%20fast-tracking%20fracking.%20UK%20edition..pdf

Permitted development

QUESTION 1

a) Do you agree with this definition to limit a permitted development right to nonhydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration? No

b) If No, what definition would be appropriate?

Permitted development was introduced to facilitate very small developments that have minimal impact on the local area, such as garden sheds or roof windows. In trial development for fracking is a major piece of infrastructure covering several hundred square metres and requiring hundreds or thousands of lorry movements. The sites are clearly visible from a significant distance, require roadside developments to facilitate lorries. The developments are considerably larger than a house or any other industrial development which would require planning permission.

If a definition were appropriate, then it would be that the development occupies an area no larger than a typical garden shed (say 3x3x4 metres) and would not require more than 2 lorry movements.

The proposed changes are a major departure from the current planning regulations, far higher than is currently allowed for phone masts and far larger than is allowed for any other development. Further it could easily be abused allow major developments by claiming to be for fracking testing and then simply request a change of use.

Should non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development be granted planning permission through a permitted development right? No

Absolutely not.

Once a site has permitted development it will be much harder to prevent fracking at a later stage, where there are good planning reasons to do so.

An environmental impact assessment should be done at the earliest possible stage, which means before any work begins. Even during the test phase there are dangers to the environment from fracking, which would simply not need to be addressed if it is treated as permitted development. As a single example, the fracking site could be on a road not suited to the huge number of lorry movements required.

Fracking sites will not be single sites, but are needed every kilometre or so, and thus there is a huge local impact. Only local authorities are in a position to consider this, and it should be at the earliest opportunity. It will be much harder to prevent unsuitable sites if they are already in use.

It appears to be an attempt to prevent any local say in whether or where fracking should take place. There is clearly huge opposition to fracking, and rather than addressing this the current proposal appears to be an attempt to prevent any opposition. It is not about allowing small developments, but about forcing fracking on communities that don’t want it. The industry’s own body has already said it has no duty to consult for non-fracking operations, and has shown it will do all it can to prevent any opposition. These proposals would mean that the voice of the public will not be heard.

QUESTION 2

Should non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development be granted planning permission through a permitted development right? No

• No (for the reasons provided above)

QUESTION 3

a) Do you agree that a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development would not apply to the following? Yes

b) If No, please indicate why.

c) Are there any other types of land where a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development should not apply?

a) Yes

b) Not applicable

c) If the Government is minded to go ahead with this proposal, Permitted Development rights exclusion areas should also include: Green Belt; sites designated under European legislation for wildlife and habitats; AQMAs; locally designated wildlife and countryside sites, any site within 800 metres of a dwelling (due to the impact that a fracking site would have)

QUESTION 4

What conditions and restrictions would be appropriate for a permitted development right for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration development?

We do not agree that permitted development should be allowed. However if the Government is determined to progress this then we need serious restrictions to fit in with the ethos of permitted development. This would include at least the following:

• Time limit of 18 weeks;
• Full restoration of the site on conclusion – with details agreed in advance and a bond to cover 100% of the expected cost
• No fracturing even small-scale testing
• Site area should not exceed 0.5 hectare
• No other oil or gas site within 10 kms;
• No structure higher than 25 metres;
• No removal of trees or hedgerows;
• Working hours agreed in advance;
• Noise restrictions;
• Air quality protections;
• Agreed traffic management plans for HGVs;
• Nesting birds and other wildlife protection considerations;
• Full water quality monitoring;
• No flaring;
• setback zone from areas of habitation of at least 800 metres;
• contaminated land regime is relevant.

QUESTION 5

Do you have comments on the potential considerations that a developer should apply to the local planning authority for a determination, before beginning the development?

Even exploratory drilling has a huge impact on the local environment (as we have seen at the existing sites). Therefore any developer should agree at least the following prior to the start of any work:

  • Traffic and highways impacts including access routes and allowed hours for HGV movements;
  • Land and water contamination issues;
  • Air quality
  • Noise and visual impacts;
  • Proximity to occupied areas (there should be no dwelling within 800 metres);
  • Setting in the landscape;
  • Requirement for public consultation;
  • Consultation with statutory bodies and local authorities including parish councils.

QUESTION 6

Should a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development only apply for two years, or be made permanent?

If a permitted development right is to be granted (which we object to) we agree that it should remain in place for no more than two years from the date the legislation is passed and that any extension or permanency must be referred back to Parliament in primary legislation.

On the precautionary principle this makes clear that permitted development should not be allowed until there has been a full study of its likely impact.

QUESTION 7

Do you have any views the potential impact of the matters raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010?

The proposal could have a serious impact on mental health as those living near fossil fuel exploration sites have come under extremes of pressure and stress; there will be an impact also on mental and physical health from loss of access to open space and impacts of public rights of way; there may also be impacts on physical health particularly those already suffering from respiratory disorders.

National Infrastructure

QUESTIONS 1-2

  1. Do you agree with the proposal to include major shale gas production projects in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime?

No

  1. Please provide any relevant evidence to support your response to Question 1. Suggested points for your response:

The greatest national need is to move to a zero-carbon economy in the shortest possible time, as shown in the recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change. Fracking is fossil fuel based and so part of the problem, NOT part of the solution.

There is no need that is met solely by onshore gas production. Sustainable energy is now cheaper than fossil-based fuel, and becoming cheaper all the time; thus the need for energy can be met in other ways which have less impact on the environment.

Given the geology of the UK there is no evidence that fracking could make a significant contribution to national energy supply – we do not have the evidence. Even if it might the environmental costs are too high as we have seen elsewhere with water supplies polluted and land and people poisoned. Fracking, in the proposed form, is a new technology and we do not know the long-term environmental impacts including earthquakes, water supply pollution, land pollution, air pollution (through escaping gases) etc. It is therefore not a suitable technology for fast-tracking

The proposal (especially when combined with making exploration “permitted development” would remove any democratic involvement and accountability. The government regularly talks of the importance of local decision making, but the final decision maker on national infrastructure proposals is the Secretary of State and it is the Government that is fast-tracking fracking. There would be no checks and balances in the system.

It is vital that local communities can be heard and that local expertise is brought to bear on consideration of these applications. It is much more difficult to engage with the Planning Inspectorate than your local planning authority.

The industry is not suitable for treatment as major development as it comprises many small-scale sites in various stages of operation. The legislation is designed for major infrastructure projects (e.g. a nuclear power station). There would be a high likelihood of unsustainable cumulative impact within certain areas. These proposals are much better managed and decided locally, rather than nationally.

The consultation says: ‘The UK has a world class regulatory regime to ensure that shale exploration can happen safely, respecting local communities and safeguarding the environment’. This is just not true. There have been many breaches where planning conditions and environmental permits have been violated and at least one known instance of drilling without planning permission. The regulators are not well resourced and cannot monitor what goes on at individual sites in enough detail. If it’s hard to regulate now this change will hugely increase the number of sites to be monitored with no evidence that the requisite resources will be available to do so. It will also be a green light to cowboy behaviour. We are not reassured by this claim.

QUESTIONS 3-6

  1. If you consider that major shale gas production projects should be brought into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, which criteria should be used to indicate a nationally significant project with regards to shale gas production? (A list is provided.)

We do not consider that shale production should be brought into NSIP, as demonstrated above

  1. Please provide any relevant evidence to support your response(s) to Question 3.

Not applicable

  1. At what stage should this change be introduced? (For example, as soon as possible, ahead of the first anticipated production site, or when a critical mass of shale gas exploration and appraisal sites has been reached).

It should not be introduced, but if the government is minded to do so it should not be introduced until there is clear evidence that fracking is a national infrastructure resource AND that fracking is safe and clean and is the fastest way to move the UK to a zero-carbon economy

  1. Please provide any relevant evidence to support your response to Question 5.

Fracking has been shown to frequently cause serious harm to the environment including poisoning the water supply, land and people. In a country as densely populated as England there can be no room for removing local control until there is evidence that the working methods here would never cause that harm (the precautionary principle)

Helpful briefings:
https://gofossilfree.org/uk/let-communities-decide/
https://www.frackfreeunited.co.uk/permitted-development-and-nsip/lawyer-briefing-on-pd-nsip/
https://www.frackfreeunited.co.uk/permitted-development-and-nsip/council-leaders-in-pedls/

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