Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th February 2019

During my four years on West Sussex County Council one issue which kept rearing its head was ‘fracking’, the controversial process through which companies extract oil and natural gas from shale rock using chemicals and vast amounts of water. As this process takes place below ground water level and between potentially unstable plates of rock, there have been considerable concerns over the potential risk of contaminating ground water supplies, with various communities in America reporting health issues shortly after fracking began.

Reports commissioned by the Government to reassure the public of the safety of fracking assume the process is taking place in a strong regulatory environment, yet the Government has instead created a weak regulatory environment so that the UK looks more attractive to fracking companies than countries with greater safety precautions.

For years, Crawley’s Labour county councillors have expressed opposition to fracking in the country, including the most famous drilling site located just down the road from Crawley in Balcombe, next to the reservoir. Unfortunately, the Conservative-led County Council has consistently claimed they cannot refuse fracking applications, as the Planning Inspectorate will override them.

This advice no longer appears true, with the Planning Inspectorate last week backing up Lancashire County Council and rejecting an appeal from Cuadrilla, the same company involved in Balcombe. West Sussex County Council must now change its approach, the Planning Inspectorate have shown they are willing to protect local communities, it’s time our county council did the same.

Even if the process was safe, fracking is the wrong solution for meeting our future energy needs, as it simply prolongs dependence upon fossil fuels. Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is working to create a greener Crawley: installing solar panels on council houses, building new Passivhaus properties, investing in sustainable transport and bringing forward a Combined Heat and Power plant for the Town Centre through the Town Hall redevelopment, amongst many other steps towards carbon neutrality. Yet, if we are going to save our planet for future generations it’s not enough for Labour to go on delivering for Crawley, we need a Government prepared to deliver for Britain.

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