“A dangerous attack on local democracy”

Like many councillors, I am receiving a lot of emails this week from people concerned about leaked government plans to strip councils of their right to vote against fracking applications in their area. You can read about the leaked proposals in The Telegraph.

This is how I am responding:

Thank you for your email. Like you, I am appalled by the government’s attitude to both democracy and to the local and global environment.

This proposal to let unelected planning inspectors, rather than local councils, decide on shale gas developments is really depressing. It also demonstrates the Government’s breath-taking hypocrisy. They were elected in 2010 on a manifesto that talked about ‘localism’ and devolving power over local planning issues downwards – the very opposite has happened.

And I am strongly opposed to the development of a shale oil/gas industry, in the UK or anywhere. Quite apart from the risks to the local environment, there is absolutely no justification for exploring for new sources of oil or gas.

To avoid reaching a catastrophic climate tipping point, we need to leave at least 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground and make a rapid transition to renewable energy technologies. The Paris Climate Conference last December confirmed the urgency of this. Instead of facilitating the pumping of yet more oil and gas out of the ground, the government should be encouraging investment in low- or zero-carbon energy technologies such as tidal, wind and solar.

You asked me to write to Liz Truss, Amber Rudd and Greg Clark, to call on them not to go ahead with these undemocratic, dangerous plans. I will send them a copy of this letter. I have also signed Friends of the Earth’s petition asking the Prime Minister not to overturn Lancashire’s locally made democratic decision to refuse fracking company Cuadrilla’s plans to drill there. (If you haven’t signed it you can do so here.)

However I don’t hold out much hope of this government seeing sense – the Prime Minister spoke at the Paris Conference about a “planet in peril”, but it hasn’t made any noticeable difference to the government’s business-as-usual fossil-fuel first energy policy. That’s why I am actively involved in campaigns against fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction – and for small-scale, locally-owned, sustainable energy projects. This last weekend I took part in a demonstration at a local gas drilling site at Horse Hill near Horley, which is being hyped as a key site for the UK’s shale gas industry.

If you feel as strongly as I do I would encourage you to sign up for updates at www.frackfreesurrey.com. And if you’re free on Saturday, there is a Frack Free Surrey meeting in Oxted – please come if you can.


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