County Council's message to fracking inquiry - don't take our planning powers
A "hands off our planning powers" message is being delivered to Westminster by Lancashire County Council.
The council, still smarting after the Government overturned its refusal of planning permission for fracking in the county in 2016, is taking the opportunity to remind MPs of the importance of local democracy.
The message will be sent by Acting Chief Executive and Director of Resources Angie Ridgwell to the ongoing Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into planning guidance for fracking.
The council may also be called to give evidence to the committee directly.
Councillors instructed their top official to prepare a statement after they considered a special motion put by Chorley Labour Coun Steve Holgate and amended by Conservative Cabinet member Coun Michael Green at a recent meeting of the full council.
Coun Green noted the council had a been at the forefront of the issue nationally and said: “It’s clearly important that decisions on shale gas applications remain local.
“The council has a unique perspective to offer both before and after fracking decisions are made, because of this it is possible the county council will be invited to present evidence to the committee and so the county council’s response must be comprehensive and should also address the technical questions about planning policy.”
The final motion approved by the council stated: “This Council believes that local authorities should retain the powers to approve or reject planning applications.”
It stated decisions should be made by the county council with “due regard” to current planning policy in its development plan, Government guidance on the National Planning Policy Framework and “material planning considerations”.
Councillors also asked that Angie Ridgwell’s response answer other questions about policy and guidance posed by the select committee, drawing “on the council’s unique experience in this area.”
Coun Holgate argued in his motion: “The exploratory nature of fracking and the fact that it does not contribute to our energy needs in any significant way means that it cannot be considered infrastructure.”
But Coun Green rejected this argument saying national policy is that exploring and developing shale gas and oil resources could potentially bring substantial benefits and help meet national objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and low carbon emissions.
Coun Holgate told councillors: “The question is who decides who should agree or disagree to frack. Until recently that was the domain of Lancashire County Council’s development control committee.”
He claimed that harnessing wind power was now more cost effective than fracking.
• In October 2016 in a landmark decision Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave the go-ahead for shale gas exploration and production company Cuadrilla to drill and frack four horizontal wells at its Preston New Road site between Blackpool and Preston overruling Lancashire County Council’s refusal of planning permission.
• As part of its inquiry the select committee will consider whether applications for fracking should be determined by the national planning regime, rather than at a local level.