Yesterday Conservative MPs voted to allow fracking under our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Rather than defend their changes in a full debate the government brought them in through the backdoor with a ‘deferred division’.
This vote rips up the safeguards that MPs introduced earlier this year. Labour fought to add amendments to the Infrastructure Bill which ensured that fracking would not take place under protected areas.
These protections received widespread support; indeed Amber Rudd stated explicitly that the government had “agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.”
Yet, the government have now made a complete U-turn.
Fracking for shale gas is now permitted under National Parks, sites of special scientific interest and AONBs as long as the rigs are located outside the boundary of the protected area. All aspects of what we conventionally view as a fracking operation - the rigs, the lorries, the generators, the waste - will all be permitted on the borders of our National Parks with the fracking itself permitted to occur under areas like the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.
We now hear ministers claiming that that we cannot keep restrictions in protected areas “without unduly constraining the (fracking) industry.”
The contrast to the government’s approach to onshore wind is striking. Windfarms are frequently described by ministers as ‘eyesores’ and they are therefore giving local people greater powers to block them. Greg Clark, the Local Government Secretary, recently said: “Communities should be free to decide whether they want wind turbines in their local area and, if so, where they should go.”
Yet Ministers are taking a completely different approach to controversial fracking decisions. They want planning powers to be taken from Local Authorities and handed to the Secretary of State.
Communities should be able to decide whether they want fracking in their local area, just like they can decide on wind farms.
As the whip assigned to energy and climate change I was able to attend the short committee hearing on these regulations in October. Since then it had been unclear when the changes would be brought forward, however this week it was suddenly announced that the government would be rushing through a vote without the proper scrutiny of a Commons debate.
I voted against the government in order to protect our countryside. We need a complete moratorium on fracking in Britain until it is proven to be safe and not to have a negative effect on the environment.