Shale Gas Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 5:00 pm, 31st October 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Menzies on securing this debate. Let me be clear on two points: first, I am intensely sceptical about whether fracking is sensible at all, but secondly, I am very clear that the expansion of permitted development to circumvent the normal planning process is disproportionate and potentially counterproductive.

Environmentally, the starting point has to be that we should seek to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We have obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. The only argument I have heard that gives some possible justification is the potential for fracking to be a bridging fuel so that we can phase out dirty coal as quickly as possible. The problem is that the science is as yet unproven. I will listen carefully to what the Minister has to say about whether that is a credible argument. The second and perhaps even more important point is that the principle must be that we should depart from the ordinary standards of consultation with local communities only in exceptional circumstances. That hurdle has not been jumped here.

The point has already been made about the inconsistency that exists. As someone who sat on a planning committee for a very long time, I know that the most serious applications ordinarily go through the local scrutiny procedure. There is no reason not to do so in these circumstances. I suggest that not to do so is dangerous and could be highly counterproductive.