Making exploratory drilling in West Sussex permitted development would be an ‘assault on local democracy’

Lib dem Kirsty Lord's motion was agreed by her colleagues on Friday
Lib dem Kirsty Lord's motion was agreed by her colleagues on Friday

Plans to make it easier to secure permission for exploratory drilling have been opposed as an ‘assault on local democracy’ by West Sussex councillors.

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 any decisions would be taken out of the hands of local authorities such as West Sussex County Council.

Kirsty Lord (LDem, Hassocks and Burgess Hill South) put forward a motion calling on the authority to tell the Government that applications for shale gas exploration and for other hydrocarbons should not become permitted development and would continue to be determined by local planning authorities like WSCC.

She described how the permitted development process that allows people to add chimneys, electric car charging points or small walls to their properties would be used by oil and gas companies to ‘industrialise our countryside’.

She said the motion was not about whether councillors believed in shale gas or not, adding: “We would be failing our residents and ourselves if we didn’t object to this cynical land grab by central Government.”

Ms Lord added: “This is an assault on local democracy. Nothing more, nothing less.”

It was approved with a small amendment by Janet Duncton (Con, Petworth) by 57 votes to zero at a meeting in County Hall on Friday (October 19).

Deborah Urquhart (Con, Angmering and Findon), cabinet member for environment, said: “This is not about party politics this is very much about local democracy and I’m pleased the whole chamber is unanimous in opposing this affront to local democracy.”

Although she said it was unlikely there was any shale gas potential in West Sussex, proposals could be the ‘thin end of the wedge’ if the Government ‘gets its way’.

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Gossops Green) felt the Government should be reinstating support for solar energy and repealing restrictions on onshore wind projects.

He also described how councillors were the correct scrutinisers of any decisions which clashed with the interests of their residents.

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.”

After the meeting Ms Lord said: “The overwhelming support for this motion sends a strong message to central government that decisions on drilling must not be taken away from local communities. The proposals from central government are a cynical attempt to override local objections to fossil fuel exploration in places like Balcombe and Broadford Bridge.”

She added: “I am delighted that my motion received such strong cross-party support. We are adding our voices to a growing chorus of local authorities and MPs across the country, telling central government to think again.”

The consultation closes on Thursday October 25. Visit https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/permitted-development-for-shale-gas-exploration

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