The Government has made no secret of its controversial support for shale gas production in the UK. Today it stepped up that support by announcing plans to force local authorities to speed up their approval (or rejection) of planning applications for fracking, or face having the decision taking out of their hands.
Councils are supposed to make a decision on any application to frack in their area within 16 weeks and now it seems the Government is keen to clampdown on those that keep dithering. Although the new powers aren’t a dramatic change in the rules around fracking, they do represent an escalation of the Government’s tone and suggest it’s not willing to tolerate obstructions to the industry's development.
‘We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that,’ said energy secretary Amber Rudd. ‘To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end.’
The move has provoked further fury from environmentalists and those who are concerned about the impact of fracking on local communities. ‘This is a shockingly anti-democratic and environmentally reckless move,’ Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told the Guardian. ‘Yet again, ministers are doing the dirty work of the shale gas industry and taking away the rights of local people to say no to fracking, whilst making contemptible claims that fracking is somehow compatible with tackling climate change.’
‘Taken with the weak statutory safeguards proposed for protected areas, today's fracking announcement suggests a wish to create a fracking regime that works more effectively for developers than for local people and the environment,’ added Nick Clack, senior energy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
The decision certainly contrasts heavily against the Prime Minister's promise, back when he was in opposition, for a ‘fundamental shift of power’ to local institutions. It's also at odds with George Osborne's big devolution agenda. But sometimes it’s necessary for the Government to override the will of councils for the benefit of the country at large.
Shale may not be a perfect source of energy (especially with the oil price being so low) but it does offer Britain the chance to reduce its dependence on imported sources and to plug the gap until cleaner, renewable methods are capable of generating the energy the country needs to function.