Councillors rebel against changes to fracking rules

Over 850 councillors, including dozens from Yorkshire, are opposing controversial Government plans to rewrite planning rules to make it easier for fracking companies to start drilling.

Protesters outside Northallerton County Hall awaiting the decision for a planning application for fracking in the vicinity of Kirby Misperton

They have signed an open letter to Housing Secretary James Brokenshire and Business Secretary Greg Clark, calling for the proposals that would remove the need for companies to apply to councils for planning permission to be dropped.

The letter signed by councillors from Yorkshire including Hull, Sheffield, Leeds and York, as well as rural East Riding and Ryedale, brands plans to treat exploratory drilling for shale gas as “permitted development” a “misuse of the planning system”.

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It adds: “Permitted Development was originally intended to be used to speed up planning decisions on small developments – like garden sheds or erecting a fence – not drilling for shale gas.

“As elected representatives of our communities, we the undersigned call for the withdrawal of this proposal, and respect for the right of communities to make decisions on shale gas activities in their areas through the local planning system.”

Although David Cameron promised a shale revolution six years ago, drilling has been held up by protests and the nearest it has got to happening is in Lancashire where Cuadrilla has been forced to stop repeatedly by a series of small earth tremors.

Last month the company proposing to frack in North Yorkshire, said it was seeking fresh investment, including exploring the option of selling its onshore business.

Third Energy withdrew equipment from the KM-8 well in Kirby Misperton in March, after Mr Clark in January ordered an assessment of its “financial resilience” before making a final decision on fracking, which involves injecting liquids at high pressure to fracture rock to release the gas.

Ryedale district councillor William Oxley, one of the letter’s 73 Conservative signatories, said he doubted whether fracking would ever happen “in any commercial sense” in Ryedale.

He said: “To me the issue is about local decision-making, not about fracking. I think there is a role for national and regional government and also for local government and decisions like this should be made locally.”

Independent East Riding councillor Andy Strangeway who last week spoke at a planning meeting against an application for a three-year extension to explore reserves at a gas well near Hull, said: “We are elected to represent local residents - not the national Government. Turning this into permitted development will take it away.”