Local councils heading for fracking showdown with government

Ministers are facing a fresh confrontation with local councils over their controversial plans to expand fracking, after one of the biggest combined authorities in the country set out plans to ban the practice.

Greater Manchester’s decision to effectively stop companies from extracting underground shale gas in the region was greeted as a critical moment in the fight against fracking, which critics say is dangerous and unproven.

The 10 local authorities that make up Greater Manchester will put planning measures in place to create a “presumption” against fracking for shale gas, said the area’s mayor, Andy Burnham, as part of its effort to become carbon neutral by 2038.

The announcement, which comes as London finalises a similar scheme, will amplify discontent among local councils – including Tory-controlled authorities – that experts said could lead to a showdown with central government, and potentially kill off ministers’ plans.

Concerns about the drilling technique were again raised in the run-up to Christmas when the energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached legal limits.

Several other authorities – including Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and York – have expressed opposition to fracking, and experts believe the stance taken by Manchester and London will embolden others.

Many Conservatives are also opposed. In Westminster, almost two dozen Tory MPs are reported to be against fracking and willing to “destroy the government’s majority” if it tries to weaken planning laws.

Several Tory-run local authorities – including Derby, Dorset and Nottinghamshire – are fiercely opposed to the change in planning proposals, which would mean companies could drill test sites without applying for planning permission.

Manchester’s decision echoes similar policies already pursued by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. Scottish government has a shale gas moratorium and the Welsh government has promised to block any applications.

Tom Fyans from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said Greater Manchester’s policy was a significant moment. “The decision is symbolic of the growing opposition to the government’s plans to fast-track fracking, which look to override local democracy by disregarding the wishes of local communities and deny those very people the opportunity to have their say on decisions that will ultimately affect them and the health of their countryside,” he said.

Burnham said: “It’s about embracing the future, not the past. Cities like Greater Manchester need to join the group of leading cities on the world stage that are driving fast towards carbon neutrality.

 

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