Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th August 2015

Fracking for shale gas has been controversial since the first attempts to introduce it to the UK a decade ago. You may recall 2013 protests down the road in Balcombe, when plans to frack next to Ardingly Reservoir met considerable local opposition.

Last week the Government warned that if councils didn’t process fracking applications more quickly they may start to award permission centrally. They have already limited West Sussex County Council’s ability to assess an application to basic planning considerations with any questions around safety or the environment left to the Environment Agency, an unelected government QUANGO.

The Government’s rush to cash-in on a short-term boost in shale gas sales risks much greater long-term consequences than they choose to admit. Work by the Royal Academy of Engineering has shown fracking technology can be operated safely ‘as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.’ It is this failure by companies and regulators to ensure best practices are maintained which has caused serious health and environemental consequences near wells in other countries.

The real worry for the UK is that our regulatory regime is no way near effective enough to protect residents from the risks of fracking and every time the Government removes another bit of regulation the risks grow.

There are many more potential fracking sites near to Crawley than just those in Balcombe.

The second issue is what this means for local democracy. Getting planning permission used to involve applying to the council, residents affected would be consulted and your elected councillors would balance the community’s needs and desires in reaching a decision.

Over the last five years that has changed as the Government has increased ‘permitted development rights’, enabling land owners to convert offices into cramped apartments and increase the height of their properties without any need to consider the local impact. It’s a license to print money paid for by local communities.

That’s bad enough when it comes to buildings, but when it comes to the future integrity of our environment and water supply, I for one think local people should have a say.

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