Plans to make exploration for hydrocarbons ‘as easy as putting up a garden shed’ have been criticised as ‘ludicrous’ by West Sussex campaigners.
The Government is consulting on the principle of granting planning permission for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration through permitted development rights.
This would mean that residents would not be consulted and the decision would be taken out of the hands of local authorities such as West Sussex County Council.
A draft consultation response written by county council officers describes the Government’s wording as ‘confusing’ and suggests the drilling of a borehole for hydrocarbon exploration of any kind should not be permitted development regardless of definition.
Kirsty Lord, a Lib Dem county councillor, has put forward a motion calling on the authority to tell the Government that applications for shale gas exploration and for other oil and gas should not become permitted development and would continue to be determined by local planning authorities like WSCC.
This is set to be discussed by Full Council on Friday (October 19).
She said: “These proposals remove important planning decisions from the hands of local councillors and make it much harder for local residents to express their views on decisions affecting their local area.
“They severely undermine local democracy and accountability which Liberal Democrats have long championed. I hope that my fellow councillors will support this motion which calls on West Sussex County Council to oppose these plans.”
Exploratory drilling has been hugely controversial in West Sussex as activities at two sites, Balcombe and Broadford Bridge, have provoked massive opposition locally.
Emily Mott, from the Weald Action Group, said: “The objective of these proposals is to speed up the planning process for exploratory drilling and fracking by sidelining local authorities and communities.
“Making exploration for hydrocarbons as easy as putting up a garden shed is a ludicrous idea. The exploration stage is the most damaging and can involve a clearance of some 1.5 hectares of land to build a well pad along with associated HGV movements, drill rig, fencing, light, noise and atmospheric pollution. These are backward, undemocratic and downright dangerous policy proposals.
“Do we want to see the industrialisation of our countryside? The people have made it abundantly clear that they do not want fracking in any name.
“We need a government that puts people and our environment first. This is not the time to be drililng for dirty fossil fuels. We need to work together urgently to build a greener, brighter, sustainable future for generations to come.”
The county council’s draft consultation response says: “Given that proposals for shale gas are controversial, to take such decisions away from local planning authorities (LPAs) would likely be seen by local communities as anti-democratic.
“The decision-making process for NSIPs is more removed from the local community than if the application was determined by the LPA. The NSIP process could be more intimidating to local communities as proposals are examined by the Planning Inspectorate and the ultimate decision is made by the Secretary of State, not by locally-elected members.
“Making these projects NSIPs would distance decisions from local democracy, which is not considered appropriate.”