Fylde anti-fracking campaigners have reacted furiously at the Government’s decision to take over a planning appeal on two key shale gas sites.
The Secretary of State, Greg Clark has served notice that he, and not the planning inspector Wendy McKay,will decide the outcome of next February’s appeals over the county council’s refusal of Cuadrilla’s two applications to test frack on the Fylde.
He said in his announcement: “The reason for this direction is because the drilling appeals involve proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/or legal difficulties.”
The move has been blasted as anti-democratic by campaign groups and residents living close to the proposed sites at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, and Roseacre.
They fear that a Government which has boasted it is “All out for shale” will over-rule the planning decision made in June.
The Preston New Road Action Group said the decision “flies in the face of the hypocritical Government’s stated commitment to localism”.
A spokesman said: “30,000 people objected to this application. Our parish and borough councils objected to it, Lancashire County Council objected to it.
“Lancashire has spoken loudly and clearly: we don’t want or need this industry.
“It is a very ‘Black Friday’ when local democracy has to be sacrificed in order to try to ensure planning outcomes under the euphemism of ‘national interest’.”
Frack Free Lancashire said: “This decision contradicts all of the governments’ rhetoric about ‘localism’ it exposes their anti-democratic agenda and that they do not have the best interests of the people in mind but more the interest of large corporations who don’t seem to care about climate change, polluting the air and land or the welfare of future generations.”
Ebony Johnson and Bob Dennett, founders of Frack Free Lancashire, said: “We will not be deterred by a dictator government and will continue to fight even more vigorously to protect the people of Lancashire and the rest of the UK against this dirty and dangerous industry.”
Greenpeace’s Hannah Martin said: “The government is making a mockery of their commitment to local democracy and giving a slap in the face to the people of Lancashire. The same minister who told local councils they should be ‘masters of their own destiny’ could now overthrow one of the most important and difficult decisions Lancashire councillors have ever made.”
Barbara Richardson from the Roseacre Awareness Group said: “People need to wake up and see this for what it is. It is not about keeping the ‘lights on’ it is about corporate greed.
“So much for local democracy. It will not reduce energy bills. The jobs it creates will be short lived and could have a serious impact on existing jobs, particularly in farming, food and tourism, while detracting from clean, renewable and sustainable energy solutions which would create many more jobs than fracking.”
Leader of Lancashire County Council Jennifer Mein said she was extremely disappointed. She added: “The county council went to great lengths to thoroughly consider these applications and councillors made their decisions based on a huge amount of evidence.
“When the appeals were lodged it already meant that the decisions would be taken out of the hands out of elected representatives here in Lancashire.
“The difference now is that, rather than being determined by an impartial planning inspector, they will be determined by a minister in a Government which has already made its views on shale gas very clear.”
A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “This is part of the long-established planning process and we look forward to presenting our case at the Public Inquiry in February.”
Nick Campbell, a risk manager at Inspired Energy and member of the North West Energy Task Force which backs shale said: “It is difficult to accept the argument that a decision by an elected politician is less democratic than by a planning inspector.”