THE decision over whether fracking in Yorkshire’s countryside gets the go-ahead could be taken out of local hands under new measures announced today.
Ministers will be given the power to decide individual planning applications for fracking sites even before the local council has taken a view.
The Government will also take over responsibility for all fracking applications from councils which repeatedly delay decisions.
Ministers are worried efforts to start a shale gas mining industry in the UK are being undermined by councils’ delaying decisions but critics claim the Government is trying to bypass legitimate local opposition.
Parts of Yorkshire are considered prime sites for the use of the controversial mining method and North Yorkshire County Council is currently considering an application to carry out test-fracking at Kirby Misperton, in Ryedale.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark said: “There is huge potential right across the country for safe and sustainable use of shale gas, to provide a clean long term energy source and create British jobs and growth.
“People’s safety and the environment will remain paramount and communities will always be involved in planning applications but no one benefits from uncertainty caused by delays in planning decisions.”
The energy industry has been pressing the Government to act after Lancashire County Council took months to decide plans to frack on the Fylde coast before turning them down.
Wakefield Council leader Peter Box, the Local Government Association’s environment spokesman, said: “People living near fracking sites - who are most affected by them - have a right to be heard.
“Local planning procedure exists for a reason, to ensure a thorough and detailed consultation with those communities.”
David Cameron has previously declared the Government is going “all out” for shale gas mining but every attempt by the industry to gain a foothold in the UK has come up against vocal opposition.
Campaigners argue fracking, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock formations deep underground to release gas deposits, poses serious environmental risks.
Friends of the Earth planning adviser Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “Local authorities have been following the rules. These changes are being made because the Government doesn’t agree with the democratic decisions councils have been making.”
But business groups welcomed the Government’s intervention.
Paul Raynes, director of policy at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said: “It has been obvious for quite some time that the regulatory quagmire that industry has to wade through is acting as a wholly unnecessary brake on development in the sector.”
Third Energy, the company behind the Kirby Misperton application, said it expected North Yorkshire to deal with it “in the same effective and timely fashion” as previous planning applications.