I welcome the conclusions of a select committee report into planning guidance for fracking which calls for national guidelines to control development and protect the countryside. The report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, upon which I serve, also raises concerns regarding Government proposals to bring applications under the National Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime. It says it would contradict the principles of localism and would exacerbate existing mistrust between communities and the shale gas industry.
I am delighted that the Committee Chair, Clive Betts, agreed to my proposal to hold an inquiry as I felt it was important that Parliamentarians have a clear understanding of the potential impacts of shale gas exploration. North Yorkshire County Council, together with North York Moors National Park and City of York Councils have developed an excellent Minerals Plan that includes strong protections for the landscape. These include a maximum density of well-pads, clear prohibition of surface developments in AONB and the National Park and also buffer zones around these areas. It is Mineral Planning Authorities that have the knowledge of their areas needed to judge the impacts of fracking, not a Planning Inspector in Bristol. I am pleased that the Committee agreed that Mineral Planning Authorities are best placed to understand the local area and how shale gas development can best take place. I am concerned that these proposals could allow for a range of fracking related activities without a need for planning permission, if they are treated as permitted development.
The report makes it clear that, should the Government press ahead with plans to include fracking in the NSIP regime, a National Policy Statement must be produced urgently to ensure cumulative impact of applications is considered automatically and every decision is consistent with Local Plans.
The Government is opening a consultation later this summer.