Wigan councillors fighting fast-track fracking

Councillors standing against Government proposals to allow exploratory drilling for shale gas to be waved through under permitted development.
Councillors standing against Government proposals to allow exploratory drilling for shale gas to be waved through under permitted development.

Seven Wigan councillors have joined hundreds of elected representatives across the country to oppose plans to fast-track fracking.

The borough representatives, who come from across the political spectrum, are just some of more than 850 MPs and councillors standing against Government proposals to allow exploratory drilling for shale gas to be waved through under permitted development.

Labour representatives Coun Anita Thorpe, Coun Paul Kenny, Coun Stephen Murphy, Coun Stephen Hellier and Coun Marlaine Whitham all signed the open letter.

Standish independent Coun George Fairhurst and Coun Ray Whittingham, who represents the same ward for the Conservatives, have also joined the political rebellion.

The idea being considered would allow fracking companies to bypass local planning authorities if they wanted to look at the possibility of operating in an area.

Instead they could install equipment to do exploratory drilling under the same legislation originally designed to allow minor changes to homes such as extensions or shed-building.

Furious signatories of the open letter, put together by Friends of the Earth and 350.org, a campaign seeking to phase out fossil fuels in favour of renewable sources of energy, say the proposals are an affront to local democracy and risk industrialising the countryside.

Councillors in the borough are calling for much harsher legislation to be brought in against the fracking industry as opposed to giving it kid-glove treatment.

Coun Kenny, who represents Winstanley in the chamber, said: “Fracking is deeply unpopular with local communities.

“It will lock the UK into high-carbon energy infrastructure, increase local air pollution, create large volumes of waste water and do little for the UK’s energy security. The Government should not be promoting it at any cost.

“The proposals to bypass local planning authorities will remove local scrutiny and the rights of local communities. Instead, we should join France, Germany and other countries in banning it.”

The letter has been sent to secretary of state for housing, communities and local government James Brokenshire and the minister for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark.

Signatories include councillors, MPs and members of the London Assembly, with Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and independent elected representatives all putting their names to it.

A total of 40 councils have also formally opposed the fast-tracking plans.

More than 300,000 people have signed petitions against the proposal while 20 leading environmental organisations warned opening the door to easier fracking exploration risked negatively impacting on climate change.