Yorkshire fracking: Labour and Tory MPs unite against government plans to shake up planning rules

Labour and Conservative MPs from Yorkshire have spoken out against Government plans to change the planning process for fracking applications amid claims the proposals would "ride a coach and horses" through limits on the controversial technique already in place in the region.

A Commons debate on shale gas development saw Tories Kevin Hollinrake and Greg Knight and Lee Rowley as well as Labour's Clive Betts, Kevin Barron, Rachael Maskell and Jared O'Mara criticise proposed changes which would make it easier for developers to carry out exploration work.

In a rare Commons intervention, Sheffield Hallam MP Mr O'Mara said fracking was the number one issue for residents in his constituency, generating more correspondence than Brexit or the ongoing Sheffield tree-felling saga.

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In plans unveiled this summer the Government proposed that shale gas exploration work, though not the practice of hydraulic fracturing itself, would no longer require full planning permission as it would be classed as 'permitted development'.

A consultation was also launched on whether fracking proposals should be considered as part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime, a national process that would reduce the involvement of local groups in the planning process.

In a Commons debate on the proposals, Conservative MP Mark Menzies, who represents Fylde, said the permitted development proposal would mean "developers can rock up, develop sites...and people will feel done to".

He said: "Permitted development rights are most commonly used to simplify and speed up minor planning processes around such issues as small property extensions or the change of use of property.

"What permitted development rights are not suitable for are new and substantial developments, especially those that have significant and ongoing operational activities associated with them."

Sir Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire cited the claim by Minister Tracey Crouch that "the Government’s civil society strategy will put communities at the centre of decision making".

He said: "If the Government were being consistent, should local communities not have more say in fracking matters, and not have their voices taken away?"

His fellow Tory Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton said he believed fracking could be done in "a way that is sensitive to the countryside" but that careful planning was needed.

Last year, North Yorkshire authorities drew up a plan where any fracking proposals within 500 metres of homes in England's largest county would only be permitted “where it is robustly evidenced that there would be no unacceptable impacts”.

Mr Hollinrake said: "North Yorkshire County Council developed a plan that restricts proliferation and density, but the concern with NSIP and permitted development is that they will ride a coach and horses through those restrictions. We need to restrict the development of shale as it is rolled out."

Labour's Rother Valley MP Sir Kevin Barron highlighted the latest government consultation which would mean shale gas developers would have to consult local communities before submitting a planning application.

He said: "This is the most inconsistent, confusing thing that I have seen in all my 35 years in Parliament. The Government clearly do not know what is going on with it.

"They would be much better withdrawing all of this and sitting down with experts to talk about the issues around fracking and how they will affect constituencies such as mine, but it is quite clear that they are all over the place when it comes to consulting on this industrial process."

And Lee Rowley, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the impact of shale gas, who has a drilling application in the village of Marsh Lane in his constituency, called for Ministers to withdraw the proposal "immediately".

He said: "I am also unclear about what, as a country, we are seeking to achieve through fracking in general. The Government have not outlined any serious objectives beyond energy security, jobs and growth, and ultimately, price reductions.

"They have not made clear how any of those objectives can be achieved, and none of them can be achieved unless fracking is done at a scale that requires thousands of well pads, with a well pad in every village like Marsh Lane. People will not stand for it, and the proposal needs to be stopped."

Responding for the Government, Minister Kit Malthouse said drilling applications could still be subject to restrictions on the height and location of proposed structures even if they were treated as "permitted development".

He said: "We remain fully committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them, and to making planning decisions faster and fairer. Those are long-standing principles and I am adamant that we should stick to them.

However, we understand that communities feel that they are often not consulted closely enough before planning applications are submitted to the local planning authority by developers. As my hon. Friend highlighted, that can lead to opposition to developments and a longer application process."

He said the consultation on the two proposals closed on October 25, and that the Government "are analysing the representations made and will publish a response in due course".