As the Government announce the go-ahead on fracking today, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) raises concerns about the impact on the countryside and local communities. Shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, will provoke local opposition if it involves turning large areas of precious countryside into industrial sites. Along with associated traffic impacts, the damage to the countryside could be severe.
These concerns are increased by little-noticed proposals in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill which is currently before Parliament  to ‘fast track’ planning for onshore oil and gas extraction. This would mean that planning decisions on fracking projects would be taken out of the hands of local communities and decided without a detailed planning policy or any right to cross-examine the developer at a public inquiry.
There are three key tests that in CPRE’s view will have to be satisfied if fracking is to proceed. They are:
- Severe impacts on landscapes should be avoided or lessened as much as possible, given the potential damage caused by large numbers of boreholles
- the need for proper public consultation and consideration of environmental impacts through the planning system, including a clear national policy statement setting out how such impacts should be avoided or addressed
- maintaining progress towards climate change targets, which are at risk of being undermined by increasing the supply of greenhouse gas energy sources
Paul Miner, Senior Planning Officer, said: ‘Before commercial scale extraction happens, there must be a full and transparent planning process. The Government doesn’t appear to have recognised the potential for major landscape damage, or the need to properly consider this at the local level. If fracking is to happen, it must be with the support of local communities, who are most at risk if things go wrong, and without damaging the countryside.’
Notes to Editors
 In the current Government consultation document entitled Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning: Extending the Regime to Business and Commercial Projects. The consultation proposes to allow developers to request that planning proposals for onshore oil or gas projects over 500 tonnes per day for petroleum, or 500,000 cubic metres per day for gas, are referred to the Secretary of State under fast track planning procedures for ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’ under the Planning Act 2008. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/nationally-significant-infrastructure-planning-extending-the-regime-to-business-and-commercial-projects. The consultation relates to Clause 23 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. In the debates around the Bill to date, Ministers have ruled out producing a national policy statement for the new types of development proposed for fast-tracking. Such policy statements exist for forms of energy generation and transmission that use this procedure, and would set clear expectations on how to address the environmental impacts of fracking through the planning system.