Fracking firm accused of ‘bypassing local democracy’ by requesting planning inquiries

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A GLOBAL chemicals giant has been accused of bypassing local democracy and using “bully-boy tactics” to push through controversial fracking applications in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire.

Earlier this year Ineos lodged plans to drill exploratory wells for shale gas around Harthill, in Rotherham, and at a site near Eckington, North Derbyshire, to strong opposition from local anti-fracking campaigners, conservation bodies, and local politicians.

Labour MP for Rother Valley, Sir Kevin Barron, said local democracry must be allowed to take its course.''''Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Labour MP for Rother Valley, Sir Kevin Barron, said local democracry must be allowed to take its course.''''Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Both Rotherham Council and Derbyshire County Council were due to make decisions on the applications after receiving thousands of comments from the public - but decisions could now be made on a national level after Ineos asked the Government to intervene.

Operations director at INEOS Shale, Tom Pickering, said the decision had “not been taken lightly” but it had been left “without an option” due to “unreasonable delays” by the councils that meant the statutory period for determining the applications had long finished.

“Whilst our consultation process has always prioritised local people, we cannot wait indefinitely for these local decisions,” he said. “We are also disappointed that a strong shale presence in the region has not been more welcomed given the recent manufacturing decline in the region as a result of energy costs, including the almost closure of Liberty Steel.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Friends of the Earth have condemned the move. Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at CPRE, said the councils had needed time to “fully evaluate” the impacts of the work.

“For Ineos to now bypass that process is both unfair and unreasonable,” he said. “This disregard for local democracy is unacceptable”.

Regional campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Simon Bowens, said the groups were committed to helping the communities fight fracking

He added: “We’ll be working closely to ensure strong arguments are put to the forthcoming planning inquiries so that Ineos’ bully-boy tactics don’t succeed.”

Rother Valley Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, whose constituency includes Harthill, said it was “completely unacceptable” that Ineos’s “plan to bypass local democracy by asking the Government to refer the plans to the planning inspectorate.

He said: “Ineos cannot be allowed to run roughshod over local communities and I have written to Sajid Javid to urge him to reject the request for this to be sent to the inspectorate. Local democracy must be allowed to take its course whichever way that may be and I made this clear in a meeting with Ineos last week.”

Rotherham Council’s strategic director for regeneration and environment, Damien Wilson said it was “very disappointed and surprised” at the move, as “on-going dialogue” with Ineos included a meeting last week where concerns over timing were not raised. It had planned a special meeting of its planning board in January to hear views.

Derbyshire County Council Leader Coun Barry Lewis said: “INEOS says it prioritises local consultation and is disappointed that the decision will not be taken at local level - and yet it is the very organisation which has pushed to have a local decision taken out of local hands.”

No date has been set for the public inquiries. A DCLG spokesman said it was unable to comment.