Mark Menzies MP reaffirms opposition to fast-track planning for fracking sites

Fylde MP Mark Menzies has again spoken out in Parliament against fast tracking planning for hydraulic fracturing sites.

Following his Wesminster Hall debate in 2018 regarding plans to give permitted development rights to hydraulic fracturing applications, Mr Menzies again spoke out against any such move in Parliament.

In a debate called by MP Wera Hobhouse, he said: "I thank Wera Hobhouse for applying to the Backbench Business Committee for it. It follows in the path of a similar debate that I held in Westminster Hall at the end of last year. That debate, too, was heavily oversubscribed. 

"I was elected in 2010. At the point of my election, it became very clear that shale gas activity—or, at that time, just gas activity—was taking place in my constituency. I would urge caution on Labour Members before they make this whole thing very political, because it was the actions of the previous Labour Government that delivered shale gas to my constituency.

"I say to the Liberal Democrats that it was a huge privilege to work in the then Department of Energy and Climate Change as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Secretary of State, Sir Edward Davey, who is in his place today. Much of the work that was done on putting in traffic lights and some of the regulatory framework should have been done by the Labour Government before they gave the green light to proceed with shale gas and fracking, but none of it was."

Sir Edward Davey said: "I am grateful to the hon Gentleman for making those points. I hope he can confirm that in those years we allowed local democracy to function. I opposed people who were arguing for permitted development, and opposed the idea that this should be some sort of national infrastructure project.

"We put on, after vast consultation, very strict regulation with regard to seismicity, and we had his support for that. Will he continue with that support?"

Mr Menzies replied: "That is why I called the Westminster Hall debate last year and why I am on my feet today. It is absolutely critical that permitted development, which has a place in our planning system, is for, say, a small extension to a bungalow or a conservatory, not for an enormous industrial estate that will produce tens of thousands of tonnes of pollutants, have thousands of vehicle movements per year, and so on.

"I thank the Minister and the Department for listening to the case that I and local people put with regard to the Roseacre Wood site in my constituency. That was a long-running case that had gone through a number of stages in the planning process, including two planning inquiries.

"We made the case that the site was unsuitable, primarily because it was up country lanes, and regardless of how we tried to cut it, the traffic management plan simply did not work. I am not sure where traffic management plans fit in under permitted development.

"A fundamental reason why a site was turned down would not be a consideration under permitted development. If the Minister is looking for a reason why this proposal does not stack up, he should refer to Roseacre Wood and the decision tree that kicked in. It was turned down on those grounds, and therefore the Government simply cannot proceed with the permitted development proposals.

"The Minister has a difficult decision to make, because the planning system for shale gas simply cannot continue as it is. After various appeals, the planning process for Preston New Road and Roseacre has been going on for years. It is not good for local communities to have this hanging over them, nor does it favour local democracy, because the powerful can hire lawyers and basically game the system to suit them. The planning system in its current format must change and needs review, but permitted development is not the route to go down.

"On the issue of local democracy, a lot of nonsense is talked when it comes to Lancashire County Council. It is said that Lancashire turned the Preston New Road site down and then Ministers forced it on them, but the reality is that planning officers at Lancashire County Council recommended that the site should go ahead on planning law grounds. Those people who were complaining about the Secretary of State giving Preston New Road permission to proceed cannot then celebrate when the same process refuses Roseacre Wood. The planning system sometimes give us what we want, and it sometimes gives us the opposite of what we want. I am afraid that we cannot trim our argument to suit our case."