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If you haven’t heard, the Government is considering allowing exploratory drilling and well testing to fall under the remit of “permitted development”. As in most planning terminology it is not the most exciting phrase, but it is highly significant.

It would mean that the fracking industry could start test drilling across the country without local planning applications, thereby subjecting communities to additional risks and damaging the environment and the climate in the process. The fracking industries would have another foot in the door to fracking our communities and we would not have a voice in the important, early stages of the planning process, thereby bypassing local democracy and accountability.

This cannot be allowed to happen, but time is of the essence to act. The Government’s consultation process sneakily opened on the last day of Parliament and closes on the 25th October, thereby minimising the publicity and the likely volume of responses. The changes to permitted development will be implemented by statutory instrument through a negative procedure (what a mouthful!) meaning that it will not be required to be brought before Parliament for a debate or for a vote.

What can you do?

You have until the 25th October to act.

1. Send a submission to the Government’s consultation, which is live from now until the 25th October

Email to: shaleconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Write to: Shale Consultation, Planning Infrastructure Division,Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 3rd Floor, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London

2. Join the national campaign page and gain further information www.letcommunitiesdecide.org

3. Add your name to the ‘Don’t fast-track fracking’ petition being run by 38 Degrees and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) https://you.38degrees.org.uk/peti…/don-t-fast-track-fracking

4. Raise the issue in local and social media.

When highlighting your opposition here are some pointers you may like to draw attention to. However, please express your remarks in your own words and try and use local examples where possible as this makes each objection unique and personal.

Why drilling by fracking companies should not be treated as permitted development

1. A “misuse” of permitted development rights

Permitted development is traditionally a system designed to deal with minor building works, where the impact will be small and uncontroversial, such as putting up sheds, garden fences, extensions and phone kiosks and not designed for applications which introduce wide and varied impacts.

“Non-fracking drilling” is neither uncontroversial nor small.
Planning practice guidance states that “exploration drilling onshore is a short-term, but intensive, activity. Typically, site construction, drilling and site clearance will take between 12 to 25 weeks.” It is classed as major development, requiring planning and permitting consent. Drilling rigs are intrusive infrastructure, the average rig being 125ft tall.
We only need to look at the recent submissions for non-frack drilling by Igas at Ellesmere Port, Portside. The initial application proposed exploratory drilling and no fracking. There has since been an application for test flowing and well stimulation which includes acidisation. These are ‘major’ applications that are required to be accompanied by several important reports (ecological, traffic, noise, lighting, landscape and visual, geohydrological). The schemes have also faced substantial local opposition, and ultimately refusal by CWaC’s planning committee.
Under permitted development, local authorities would have significantly less input. There would be a requirement for ‘prior approval’, a process which does not consider the principle of whether development can or should happen, but instead only considers specific and limited factors set out in regulations.

2. The views of local people would be side-lined

The local planning system is one of the main routes for our communities to express our concerns for what happens in the area. Permitted development would massively reduce the scope for the community to comment.
Local surveys in the area as well as national statistics have shown that fracking is not supported. FFD believes that the views of local people should not be side-lined for what is a controversial, unpopular and risky industry.
Our local authority should have a meaningful say in whether these large projects go ahead, especially when there will be significant local impacts such as increased traffic, fields and open spaces being converted to drilling sites. Local councils should retain the right to represent their communities needs and wishes, as concluded by both the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s recent report on fracking and the Local Government Association.

3. Industrialisation of the English countryside

Research by Professor Calvin Jones and commissioned by Friends of the Earth, reveals the scale of industrialisation of the countryside that could result from a fully-fledged fracking industry.
The report concluded that, in the most likely scenario, we would need to drill the equivalent of one new well every day for 15 years to replace just half of UK gas imports for 2021-2035 with fracked shale gas. This would mean 6,100 wells scattering the English countryside, requiring around 3,500 hectares of land – equivalent to 4,900 football pitches.
If the productivity of fracking wells is at the lower end of the range of possibility, that figure rises to an eye-watering 9,600 hectares – more than 13,000 football pitches of UK land handed over to industrialisation.

4. Incompatibility with tackling climate change

Permitted Development for non-fracking drilling would undermine the UK’s climate change commitments by enabling wide scale exploration (leading to extraction) of oil and gas.
If we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, the majority of proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.
In 2016, the then Minister for Climate Change, Nick Hurd MP stated “Between 70-75 percent of known fossil fuels would have to be left unused in order to have a 50% chance of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C.
Extraction of unconventional oil and gas just adds to the stockpile of fossil fuels that we can’t burn, making it more challenging to keep the world below the internationally agreed target of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming.

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