A cross-party group of MPs are calling on the government to ensure planning applications for fracking remain at the local level.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee believes moving the decision-making process to a national level contradicts the principles of localism and “would likely exacerbate mistrust” between communities and the fracking industry.
It warns the government against its proposed move to bring applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime as it suggests local councils are “best placed” to understand their areas and how fracking can best take place.
It follows a new package of measures announced by the government earlier this year to ensure fracking planning decisions are “faster and fairer” for new developments.
The Committee is also calling for the creation of an online “one-stop shop”, which brings together all the documents relevant to the determination of planning applications as well as explains the roles of each regulatory body in charge of making the decisions.
It believes the current guidance hinders understanding, transparency and engagement with fracking applications.
The MPs suggest the online hub should be hosted by the Shale Information and Co-ordination Service – which they say should be the new name for the proposed Shale Environmental Regulator.
They also highlight concerns about the government’s plans to replace the current definition of fracking with the Infrastructure Act, which it believes does not reflect the technologies on the ground nor the public understanding of fracking, leading to significant concerns about loopholes in the current regulations.
They suggest the definition should be amended to ensure every development that artificially fractures rock is included.
Committee Chair Clive Betts MP said: “Taking decision-making powers away from local planning authorities would be a backward step. It would remove the important link between fracking applications and local plans and be hugely harmful to local democracy and the principles and spirit of localism. It is Mineral Planning Authorities that have the knowledge of their areas needed to judge the impacts of fracking, not ministers sitting in Whitehall.
“The government has failed to provide any justification as to why fracking is a special case and should be included in the regime in contrast to generation mineral applications.”
The government believes shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support jobs and provide a new energy source.
A spokesperson added: “We are consulting on shale gas planning guidance in the summer and will announce more information in due course.”