Councillors vote on fracking consultations

County councillors have voted on two consultations from central government which will inform the future of shale gas extraction in the UK.

They were asked to consider a report which outlined two major consultations; the first is from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and is seeking views on the Government’s proposals to introduce permitted development rights for the exploration phase of shale gas development (non-hydraulic fracturing only). Proposals for on-shore shale gas development phases, including any development involving fracking, would still require planning consent in the usual way.

A further consultation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), is asking whether major shale gas development should be included within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects planning regime. This means applications would be determined by the Secretary of State rather than the local (mineral) planning authority.

In two separate votes members objected to the MHCLG proposals regarding its consultation and have asked the BEIS for more clarity and justification on its proposals.

In considering the BEIS proposal, county councillors felt that the case for dealing with major shale gas developments as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects had not been fully justified. In particular, they queried why shale gas would be treated differently to conventional onshore oil and gas development. They also wanted more clarity about the definition of ‘major’ shale gas development.

Cllr Daryl Turner, cabinet member for the natural and built environment, said: “We have done the right thing today by objecting to the MHCLG’sc proposals and asking for full justification from the BEIS. Without addressing our concerns at this stage, there is a risk that the proposals will be perceived to undermine local democratic accountability and integrity in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects planning regime.”

Dorset has not seen any applications for shale gas development, nor is there any indication that shale gas resources would be a viable source of energy here. Nevertheless, the county council has extensive experience of dealing with conventional hydrocarbons – notably at Wytch Farm in Purbeck – and there are matters in these consultations relevant to the county council’s role as the Mineral Planning Authority.