A body which manages a national park is set to send the Government an unequivocal message that some types of fracking must not be granted the same planning leeway as home extensions.
Members of the North York Moors National Park Authority will meet next week to consider its formal response to a consultation announced in May by Business Secretary Greg Clark to help create “the world’s most environmentally robust onshore shale gas sector”.
Mr Clark said steps such as treating non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration schemes as “permitted development” could streamline the “disappointingly slow” planning process by enabling firms to bypass the need for permission from local planning authorities.
The consultation states any non-hydraulic fracturing – the process of fracturing rock at depth to release gas deposits without the use of fluid pressure – development permitted in this way would still be required to receive consents from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority.
Petrochemicals giant Ineos, which earlier this year refused to rule out planning to frack under the North York Moors, has warned the Government delays in exploiting shale gas is causing Britain to become overly-dependent on imports from Russia and the Middle East.
However, environmentalists have claimed steps outlined in the Government’s consultation, which is due to close on October 25, were akin to “trampling over democracy”.
Meanwhile, it has been reported at least 20 bankbench Conservative MPs are willing “to destroy the government’s majority” if ministers seek to push the proposal through parliament.
An officer’s report to the national park authority suggests its response to the Government should be that “a balance needs to be struck between timely decision-making and the need for appropriate scrutiny of development proposals at a local level”.
It warns that the Government’s intention not to apply a new permitted development right in national parks “may not be maintained” and that such schemes outside the national park boundary could give rise to potential impacts within it.
The officer’s report also questions the rationale behind giving permitted development rights to non-hydraulic fracturing.
The document states: “In terms of the potential for impacts on the environment and local amenity, there is no expectation that exploratory drilling for shale gas would give rise to lesser potential for impacts than exploratory drilling for other forms of hydrocarbons.”
The report states arguments for introducing permitted development for the type of fracking are further undermined as drilling to explore for shale gas in North Yorkshire is likely to require drilling to a greater depth than for conventional gas resources and may take longer.
This, officers state, would create potential for longer duration impacts as a result of factors such as visual intrusion, noise and traffic movements.
Jim Bailey, chairman of the authority, said he believed allowing fracking firms to avoid getting planning consent would be “an unpopular step for the public” and local planning authorities were best placed to consider the issues.
Mr Bailey said: “All planning authorities and certainly national parks should have consideration of these matters within their boundaries.
“We have just been through a process of developing a local mineral planning strategy that has involved a lot of work and a huge amount of public consultation that demonstrates the constraints that should be applied. That’s enabling developments and it would seem rather perverse to substitute that just as it is being implemented.”