Environment secretary failing as “custodian of the landscape” in fracking row

THE environment Secretary has been told to live up to her role as “custodian of the countryside” as the Conservatives are accused of watering down a national park fracking ban.

Environment minister Liz Truss

Liz Truss faced questions over her commitment to safeguarding national parks as it emerged legislation promising to block fracking in protected landscapes will not include the detailed regulations needed to prevent speculative drilling bids, with guidance not now due until after the General Election.

Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment Select Committee, yesterday told the minister that she appeared to be going against “what we said for nine years in opposition” when Ms Truss admitted there are no plans to make national park guidelines a specific part of the new legislation.

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Ms McIntosh added there were concerns that fracking licenses could be handed out without clear limits on the number of wells which could be created.

She told the Environment Secretary of comments by Third Energy this week in which the firm’s director said as many as 50 wells could be needed for the Ryedale fracking project in North Yorkshire.

Ms McIntosh said the minister had a duty as “custodian of the countryside” to ensure as much detail as possible was available to those who might have to live near fracking sites, in North Yorkshire or in national parks.

“We face the potential industrial of the countryside,” Ms McIntosh said.

The Environment Secretary said decisions on the number of wells allowed at any fracking site was a decision for local planning authorities.

On national park safeguards, Ms Truss added: “There is always a question of what goes in the Bill and what goes in the legislation, but the regulations are more easily adjusted.”

The fracking row came as Ms McIntosh revealed she will set out this week whether she will stand in the upcoming General Election. The MP was deselected by party officials in Thirsk last year, but could still stand as an independent candidate.