Government plans to make it easier for fracking to be fast-tracked through to approval have been greeted with fury in Wigan.
Westminster consultations suggesting sweeping changes to planning rules for shale gas exploration and production have been blasted by a local MP. Wigan Council was equally strong in its condemnation, with the leader bluntly stating his opposition.
The consultation wants applications for exploratory drilling to be classed as permitted development, leaving fracking companies with no need to apply for planning permission to sample a well.
The Government also wants shale production projects to be included in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime, ultimately giving ministers rather than councils the final say on any fracking project.
Almost the entirety of Wigan borough is covered under licences for exploration of fracking, meaning the proposals could massively increase the likelihood of the controversial fuel production happening here.
Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue did not hold back in her criticism and called on ministers to forbid fracking rather than roll out the red carpet for it.
She said: “The proposals would ride roughshod over local democracy and put drilling in the same category under planning law as building a small extension to a property. It would remove the important link between fracking applications and local plans and be harmful to the principles of localism.
“Fracking operations should not be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development.
“The Wigan borough, including large parts of the Makerfield constituency, is an area with oil and gas exploration licences in place so any move to alter the planning process also seriously risks worsening the often strained relationship between local residents and the fracking industry as we have seen in Lancashire recently.
“Fracking would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels long after we need to have moved to clean energy.
“It was for this reason that at the 2017 general election I stood on a manifesto that included a commitment to ban fracking. The Government should be banning fracking, not promoting it.”
The local authority said it was deeply concerned about more powers being taken away from the town hall planning department and committee.
Leader Coun David Molyneux said: “The council does not support this proposal as it would completely remove any local planning control about fracking in the borough.”
Conservation organisation Friends of the Earth has been writing to MPs to drum up further opposition to the plans.
However, attempts to keep Wigan a fracking-free zone suffered a blow yesterday when Cuadrilla was given permission for its Preston New Road site in Lancashire.
Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said that, subject to conditions being met, the company had met all the necessary health and safety measures.
However, the site has been the subject of a massive and bitter dispute with furious opposition from environmentalists and residents. The decision also marked the Government stepping in to overturn local decisions to reject Cuadrilla’s applications.