Use it (properly) or lose it

The power to decide planning permission for fracking at a local level, that is - something government is consulting on.


As you read this, the government is consulting on whether fracking should in future be classed as "Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects" with decision making removed from local control.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

They're considering it because local councils are typically taking too long to determine planning applications and, when they do, the councillors taking the decisions are refusing permission on dubious grounds, against the advice of their own planning officers and lawyers.

Whether due to delays or unsound decisions, it results in expensive appeals and public inquiries that leave councils open to having to pay the fracking companies' costs if permission is eventually granted on appeal.

Fracking opponents are busy trying to claim that the very idea of central government in future deciding all shale gas planning applications is an attempt to subvert local democracy.

It isn't, but their behaviour is...

See, the reason councillors make decisions the way they are is because fracking opponents hound them constantly, telling them that if they approve fracking plans in their area, protestors will organise a campaign to get them voted out at the next election.

The councillors, wishing to stay in their posts - not for financial gain but to continue representing constituents that aren't obsessed with fracking - respond to this political pressure in the only way they feel able: they capitulate to the noisy minority just in case they can somehow whip locals into unseating them.

If threats like this to local councillors aren't a prime example of people trying to subvert democracy, it's hard to know what is.

The problem is that by bowing to this pressure and allowing decisions making to be politicised, they send a message to government that they cannot wield their planning powers effectively.

No wonder it's thinking of taking it off them

If it does, it won't be the industry's fault, or the government's. It won't really even be the fault of local elected representatives. It will be the fault of the anti-frackers for trying to bend councillors to their will in order to subvert local democracy.

There is, however, a middle way where decisions can continue to be made locally by people that live in the area: and that's by taking the politics out of it and letting the expert planning officers decide instead. Unlike councillors, they cannot be pressured politically and so will make their judgements based on sound planning grounds. But at least this way, local councils will retain control over fracking within their boundaries instead of decisions being taken in Westminster.

We believe this to be the best way forward for everyone. If they really do care about local decision making, and aren't just saying that as a convenient way to attack the Tory government, then even fracking opponents will agree with us...

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