Should UK councils be stripped of power to stop fracking?

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Source: DollarPhotoClub

In the face of the disappointing decision made on Monday regarding Cuadrilla’s planning application the deeply politicised nature of the UK shale industry was laid bare. Despite a positive recommendation from the Council’s Planning Officers, Cuadrilla’s application was rejected on the grounds that it would have an “unacceptable noise impact” and “adverse effect on the landscape”. In this case the public controversy, political and national attention surrounding the application appears to have forced the council’s hand.

However what the events of the last week have shown is that attitudes toward the shale industry are changing for the better, with the planning application not rejected on safety grounds. With national energy sources running low the role of shale to energy security is also garnering greater attention, as is the potential for the industry to boost the UK economy through job creation and increased investment.

Dougal Paver, Director of Curtins, a UK engineering consultancy firm, has provided his assessment of Monday’s result. On the subject of whether the decision was fair, Paver has commented “that’s for the planning inspector to determine, should Cuadrilla decide to appeal. I think it’s a reasonable interpretation that this was a political decision, particularly in the light of officers’ recommendations and the weight of professional evidence backing the veracity of the application. Viewed through a political prism, it’s the obvious decision to take”.

With many now calling for local councils to be stripped of their decision-making powers for planning applications, Paver has determined that the councils are the right people to make the decision, noting that “they make perfectly good, rational decisions on plenty of other complex planning issues and their committees are served by experts in their fields.”

“Councillors,” he said, “who are elected by communities, make decisions based on those communities’ wishes. Taking away local powers to decide would go against the idea of local government, however in the face of an increasingly politicised shale industry the question of what should be done remains unclear.”

Paver has provided his assessment of the situation, noting that “planning committees are, under the current arrangement with government, one of the last great areas of decision-making that remains at a local level and their diminution would be a blow to local democracy, for sure.”

“My own view,” he continued, “is that government would be reluctant to remove these powers from local authorities but if planning decisions are persistently made on a political basis rather than on planning law, a frustrated Whitehall might just do it. The question is, would there be a sufficient weight of applications in any given authority to prompt them to act?”

Despite the disappointing decision made on Monday, it referenced only one site of exploratory drilling, not the future course for the entire industry. In the face of the impending 14th onshore licensing round, and with other operators set to put forward their own applications in due course, the industry is still moving forward. Encouraging an increasing trend toward progress is the next step for the industry.

The latest debates emerging out of the industry will be discussed at ESGOS 2015, with emphasis placed upon educating the public further about the safety of shale, how to aid the planning process and the next steps for kick-starting shale in the UK.

This is a guest post prepared by Charles Maxwell Events.

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