Permitted Development and Shale Gas Exploration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change) 3:25 pm, 28th March 2019

I really have to get on now.

Since the Government proposals were announced, 300,000 people have signed petitions against them and 40 councils have passed motions to reject them. With such widespread opposition, giving fracking companies access to permitted development rights would not simply speed up the process; it would serve to muzzle opposition, effectively silencing local communities. This is outrageous and I hope that colleagues across the House will join me in voicing their strongest opposition.

The consultation that looked at making larger fracking sites part of the nationally significant infrastructure regime is entirely incoherent and, frankly, dangerous. According to the Select Committee report, there is no precedent for this classification. Shale gas extraction sites fail to meet the criteria that normally determine nationally significant infrastructure. The report suggests that this issue would undermine the ideals on which nationally significant infrastructure was founded, and would damage the relationship between fracking companies and the communities they are placed within. Combined with permitted development rights, this adds to the Government’s callous attempt to take the decision-making process away from local communities. Shale gas exploration and extraction would be a decision for private companies and the Government, bypassing those who are most affected by it.

Let me turn to the climate crisis. The big problem that we face is the Government’s energy strategy and our continued reliance on fossil fuels. Fracking is not sustainable, and even classifying it as a transitional fossil fuel does not stand up to the science. It recently emerged that investing in fracking would produce as many carbon emissions as 300 million new cars. It is blatantly obvious that the Tory Government favour fracking over renewable energy. The Environmental Audit Committee found that investment in renewable energy had fallen by 56% in 2017, which was the greatest decline of any country that year. In May 2018, investment in renewables was at its lowest in 10 years, despite the claims by the Government that renewable energy is booming. That must be wrong if we must now urgently turn our attention to becoming carbon zero before 2050.

The recently released IPCC report states that globally we must become carbon zero by 2050, if we are to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. Scientists have concluded that a temperature rise that is higher than that will bring irreversible damage. The IPCC report gives us 12 years to completely transition away from fossil fuels in order to prevent this from happening— 12 years. With the proximity of that deadline, how can this Government argue that now is the time to be rushing into a massive national project of shale gas production? My view, which I hope will be shared by others in this House, is that they absolutely should not. We must reinvest in renewable energy. This Government have removed subsidies for onshore wind and have spearheaded a 65% cut in subsidies for household solar panels. The 2017 Budget ruled out additional investment in renewables before 2025. Yet communities up and down the country are asking for more investment in renewables. Only a few weeks ago, our streets were filled with schoolchildren who were making their voices heard and saying that the climate crisis is the biggest issue for them.

We urgently need a culture change. All Government Departments should have sustainability and a zero-carbon target at their core. As a developed country, we should lead the fight against climate chaos, but this Government have gone in completely the opposite direction. Policies such as those proposed by the Government stand in the way of progress. This Government cannot keep prioritising big oil over the urgent need to combat climate chaos. They have to drop these proposals. As a country, we must legislate in a way that restricts fossil fuel industries and instead invests heavily in renewable energy. There is no time to lose. We owe it to ourselves and future generations.