Two recent Government announcements have been made in their continued attempts to get the fracking industry started.
The first was that councils who are slow to make decisions on planning applications for unconventional gas will lose the right to make such decisions. Despite words about “public consultation”, there is a thinly veiled threat that councils are being pressurised into approving applications rather than just working out what the most appropriate planning outcome should be. As we know from local experience, planning applications don’t always arrive with the full and careful detail so reaching a rapid decision isn’t always appropriate. This effort to take fracking decisions into the direct control of central Government is in stark contrast to the changes to how planning decisions will be made for renewable energy wherein local communities are being given a right of veto.
The second announcement came out on the 18th August. It reveals the 14th round of fracking licences which is dramatically smaller than the initial offering that was announced. Almost all of Shropshire was offered in the 14th round and yet there are now no new licence blocks being offered in the county. We pointed out very early in our campaign that the DECC’s own publications indicate that Shropshire is not suitable for this industry. Our relief though should be tempered by sympathy for those people who do now find themselves in a licence area for the first time.
In 2013 Lord Howell of Guilford recommended to the House of Lords that fracking be limited to the “desolate North” because if it is deployed in Conservative voting areas of the south then the Government would not get re-elected (cf http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-23527634 and http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/14/fracking-bribes-could-cost-votes-warns-lord-howell). It would appear that the Government is listening to his advice, given that the small subset of the 14th round that is going to be licensed is almost entirely north of Shropshire, mostly in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire.
These announcements come on the back of a month of announcements that are designed to help the profits of the big six utilities at the expense of the renewables sector and the public (http://www.foe.co.uk/blog/government-sticking-two-fingers-everyone-fighting-climate-change).
Although after our hard-won campaign we can breathe a sigh of relief here in Dudleston, it is important that we support others who are battling to protect their areas from becoming gas fields. One person who has been doing his bit to encourage other landowners to not sign up is farmer Paul Hickson. He was interviewed by Ian Crane on this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJUaq6rAj5w). The interview with Paul starts 26 minutes in, after an interesting but worrying section on Linc Energy. Since this video was recorded the Queensland government have announced criminal proceedings against the owners of Linc Energy that could result in large fines or prison sentences. We’ve already seen first hand one ex-Australian company wanting to find a “more favourable regulatory regime” here in the UK, let us hope that we don’t now see a second one.
By spreading the word, staying involved and even simply signing petitions like those from Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace, for example, we are able to be part of a wider voice asking that the Government listen to the will of the public and start looking after the planet a bit more.