Permitted Development and Shale Gas Exploration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 4:15 pm, 28th March 2019

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak today. It is a pleasure to follow my near neighbour, Louise Haigh. It is also a pleasure to see so many people who have been involved in this discussion ever since I joined this place, particularly in my capacity as chair of the all-party group on the impact of shale gas. I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on selecting this debate and Wera Hobhouse on securing it.

This is an incredibly important debate. Already, we have heard fantastic contributions from those on the Government Benches, and, in fairness, from those on the Opposition Benches. I think what we are seeing is the emergence of a cross-party consensus that we have a problem with fracking in our country. If there was a traffic light system to be applied today to this House, it would be flashing red that there is no majority for permitted development NSIPs—nationally significant infrastructure projects—or probably even for pursuing fracking in general in this country.

I say that not because I am an anti-fracker per se. I did not start in that place. My second job after I left university was as an oil and gas analyst for three years, so I came at this issue, like others in this debate, from an agnostic perspective. The problem with fracking is that when we unpick it and the economic prospectus on which it is based, as my hon. Friend James Heappey indicated a moment ago, it falls apart. I am a pro-business Conservative. I believe in trying to fix our energy solution, and I believe that we cannot move straight to renewables, however laudable that may be, but if the prospectus on which we are talking does not work then at some point we have to practically and pragmatically say that we should go no further, and that we should invest our personal energies, our money, our capital and our effort in something else. That is why I am convinced that fracking does not have a place in the future energy mix of the United Kingdom and that the Government should abandon it. It is wasting time.

There are three problems with fracking. One is a people problem. The knowledge that people have about fracking has increased. As it has increased, support for fracking has decreased. The problem now is that there is a perception that the system is being pranged. The Government’s NSIP and PD proposals suggest that we could get them in in the same way as if we were building a kitchen extension.