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Government plans to take fracking decisions away from councils in fast-track drive

Councils thought to be taking too long to decide on fracking applications face having the Communities Secretary step in. Credit: PA

The government is to fast-track fracking schemes through the planning process, and could take decision-making away from councils where local officials are thought to be taking too long to decide on applications.

Under the new measures, Communities Secretary Greg Clark will consider determining applications for shale gas exploration and extraction where councils take longer than the statutory 16 weeks to decide.

"By fast tracking any appropriate applications today's changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system," Mr Clark said.

The Communities Secretary will also take charge of determining appeals against planning rejections on a case-by-case basis.

Previous fracking applications have drawn protests from local residents. Credit: PA

Campaign groups, including Friends of the Earth, say the government's plan "rides roughshod over democracy".

Bulldozing fracking applications through the planning system, against the wishes of local people and councils, will simply fan the flames of mistrust and opposition

– Naomi Luhde-Thompson, Friends of the Earth

Daisy Sands, a lead energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said local residents could end up with "virtually no say" on fracking in their area under the government's new plans.

There is a clear double standard at play - the same government that is intent on driving through fracking at whatever cost has just given more powers to local councils to oppose wind farms, the cheapest source of clean energy

– Daisy Sands, Greenpeace

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change defended the fast-track plan saying the process was currently taking "too long":

Despite government support for shale gas exploration oil and gas companies hoping to start fracking operations in the UK have come up against local opposition, with councils turning down applications in potential shale areas, including Lancashire and Sussex.

Oil company Cuadrilla, which had two applications turned down by Lancashire County Council at the end of June, a decision that had been delayed from January, welcomed the government's move.

A spokesman for the company said: "It is undoubtedly in the national and the local interest to ascertain whether we will be able to satisfy the continued need for natural gas in the UK from our own indigenous onshore resources."

Fracking's opponents fear the process can pollute water supplies Credit: Reuters

Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said that "recent experience" had shown the planning process was "unwieldy" and took too long.

Fracking's opponents fear the process of hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes and can pollute water supplies.

They say it could damage house prices in areas where it is carried out and will contribute to increased carbon emissions.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said the Conservatives had "consistently ignored genuine and legitimate concerns" over fracking.

"Now they are going a step further by denying local communities a say in decisions about whether it should go ahead," she said.