MP’s anger at stance over Fylde coast gas schemes

Anti-fracking protesters celebrated outside Lancashire County Hall after Cuadrilla's fracking application was refused. But an appeal has been lodged.
Anti-fracking protesters celebrated outside Lancashire County Hall after Cuadrilla's fracking application was refused. But an appeal has been lodged.
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A Blackpool MP has criticised the energy minister over her actions on controversial gas storage and fracking schemes.

Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden blasted Tory Andrea Leadsom over her article in the Gazette which lauded fracking and claimed the Government was not by-passing local democracy by reserving the right to call in planning applications and overrule local decisions.

He also slammed her for being ‘high-handed’ in her response to Parliamentary questions over the Government’s decision to push through plans by Halite to store gas in salt caverns near the river Wyre.

He said today: “The Government is determined to press ahead with these schemes so it is important to challenge them.”

In the letter he states: “My Parliamentary Questions asked you what discussions your department had had with Lancashire Council, Wyre Council, environmental groups and local residents’ associations, and indeed with other Government departments, prior to the decision to overrule the rejection of a planning application for gas storage made by Halite Energy in Preesall, Lancashire.

“Your replies baldly stated that the answer to this was none, as none were necessitated by planning law.

“In legal terms this may be strictly accurate, but this is no excuse for a lack of desire on the part of the Government to genuinely engage with the community on such a controversial proposal.”

He accused her of tokenism in trying to reassure Fylde people that the normal planning process should go ahead for fracking applications and said the Government’s insistence that communities have their say on windfarms was at odds with their attitude to fracking.

He said: “It is little comfort to people in Lancashire that you point out local planning processes can still go ahead, when the new Government planning rules mean the local process can simply be usurped by a Whitehall decision. Real community power means the ability to influence final decisions, not simply to play a token role in the intervening process.

“It is also very clear from public statements that the Government is trying to railroad fracking applications through, and in the process abandoning any pretence to quasi-judicial impartiality, which historically has been the role of Ministers in such matters. I am afraid the common thread that ties together the Government responses to these two cases of gas storage and fracking is a blatant disregard of the right of people to have their voice heard.”

Andrea Leadsom, in her article, said planning applications would continue to be held locally but that councils should concentrate only on planning criteria – not other factors which should be dealt with by regulation. She said: “Local residents and businesses will continue to have the opportunity to make their representations and influence that decision.

“What we do need is to avoid any unnecessary delays to planning applications.

“Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity for the UK. The industry could be worth billions of pounds to our economy, and provide more than 60,000 jobs.”