It is a great pleasure to follow James Heappey. The Government are considering bypassing local authorities entirely and removing the need for planning permission for fracking, because fracking has little or no support in our communities. Ministers have been hypnotised by the success story in the United States, without considering the critical difference between the US and the UK, which is that the US has vast tracts of low-density land that it can exploit. For fracking to be a viable part of our energy mix in the UK, two things are necessary—tracts of land with low population, and broad-based community support—but we have neither.
The Bowland shale gasfield, which is by far the most sizeable in the UK, is where the viability of fracking will live or die. It covers land from Lancaster in the north to Sheffield in the south and Whitby in the north-east. One well—just one—has been introduced to that basin, in the teeth of opposition, and even that has lain dormant for many months due to tremors. The gasfield covers almost all the major metropolitan centres of the north of England: Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and, on the right side of the Pennines, Derby, Sheffield, York and north Leeds. It is an absurdity that the Government think that a fracking basin that covers a population that runs into many millions is viable.
Rather than recognise those inherent flaws, which are caused by trying to impose an industry with a dubious environmental record on a highly populated sweep of land, the Government are instead trying to override the local population entirely. If communities cannot exercise their democratic right to oppose fracking through the planning system, how can the Government maintain the presence of localism? There is no broad consent for fracking in the way that there often is for other uses of the national infrastructure projects regime.