WAKEFIELD’S COUNCIL leader has defended the right of local authorities to decide fracking applications as it emerged proposals to use the controversial mining method in North Yorkshire face fresh delays.
Coun Peter Box warned Government ministers would create a “democratic deficit” if they step in to take planning decisions over fracking out of local hands.
The Government has told councils that ministers will intervene where local authorities are suspected of prolonging decisions on fracking applications.
Local Government Secretary Greg Clark has already said he will decide the outcome of an appeal energy firm Cuadrilla is mounting against Lancashire County Council’s refusal to allow it to frack at two sites on the Fylde coast.
Coun Box will next week ask fellow Wakefield councillors to back a motion calling on the Government to withdraw licenses allowing energy firms to search for gas which could be extracted via fracking and to remove the threat of ministerial intervention.
He said: “I want to give all elected members an opportunity to express their own views on fracking and those of residents.
“I think there are grave concerns about a technology that is not yet proved.
“There will be particular concerns about the right of local authorities to assess these applications which could be taken away.
“There is a real danger of a democratic deficit being created which I don’t think is right.”
Members of Wakefield Council’s planning committee will not take part in the debate to ensure they cannot be accused of pre-judging any applications submitted to the authority.
Councils are supposed to decide fracking applications within 16 weeks but Third Energy’s request to use the technique at a site near Kirby Misperton, in Ryedale, remains undecided despite being submitted last July.
It has now emerged that North Yorkshire County Council is asking Third Energy to agree another extension to the deadline which would see the decision taken at some point before April 29.
However, with the county having no planning committee meeting scheduled for April it was not immediately clear when councillors will finally discuss the matter. The letter to Third Energy making the request in part blames the need for more time on the company’s submission of 170 pages of evidence as part of the latest consultation process.
Ian Conlan, from the Frack Free Ryedale campaign group, said: “In a week that sees the planning appeal in Lancashire where the drilling Cuadrilla hopes to overturn Lancashire County Council’s rejection of their application for fracking, we need to defend the community’s right to say no to fracking and have a say in how they would like their energy produced, rather than being forced to accept what the government thinks is good for them.