A major row has erupted just days ahead of the public inquiry into fracking after a Government letter was leaked which suggested it would take shale gas planning decisions out of local authority hands.
An inquiry originally scheduled for 12 days, but which could last longer, into Lancashire County Council’s refusal of planning permission to energy company Cuadrilla to drill and test frack for gas on two Fylde sites is due to begin next Tuesday.
But a letter from Energy secretary, Amber Rudd; Environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss and Communities and Local Government secretary, Greg Clark to Chancellor George Osborne outlines plans to make fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning issue.
That would allow the Government to appoint an unelected planning inspector to rule on each case rather than allow local councils to decide.
Anti-fracking campaigners are already angry that Greg Clark will rule on the up-coming two planning hearings to be held at Blackpool Football Club as the Government has repeatedly publicised its strong support for fracking.
Now the latest plan has been also labelled anti-democratic by campaigners who fear fracking could damage the environment and health in the areas close to drill sites as has been reported in the USA.
Pat Davies, chairman of the Preston New Road Action Group, said: “This is yet again an attempt to subvert the democratic process.
“The government is striving to impose an industry through bypassing elected local planning committees, forcing fracking upon communities at any cost.
“This latest travesty from Westminster seems to be an attempt to predetermine outcomes in relation to fracking, irrespective of local community wishes.
“The involvement of Greg Clark and this document raises serious fundamental questions on Lancashire’s fracking appeal hearing about to take place.
“We would welcome an investigation from the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee on this exposed letter.”
Barbara Richardson, from Roseacre Awareness Group, said: “Our group is currently in the process of preparing evidence by expert witnesses which supports Lancashire County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission at the two sites in Lancashire.
“It is costing our small community tens of thousands of pounds, and much stress and anxiety, but we are doing it because we believe we have a strong case and are justified.
“This leaked letter flies in the face of everything we are doing and the meaning of local democracy.
“How hypocritical of the government which advocates local decision making, such as on wind farms, but it appears to be only when it suits them and their agenda.”
John Hobson, from Defend Lytham, said: “People are outraged at the level of the cynicism we are seeing from our government. Greg Clark, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, has the power to decide Cuadrilla’s appeal in February. Lancashire County Council wrote to David Cameron in December expressing concerns that Greg Clark might be seen to have predetermined the issue.
“We can now see that this was not only quite justified, it was also something of an understatement.
“In the light of his involvement with this inept attempt to push fracking onto an unwilling population, no decision on his part to allow the appeal can now be seen as legitimate.