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Posted 16/12/2015

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UK support for fracking at odds with approach to wind

Fracking in the UK has consistently struggled to get off the ground—or, indeed, under it. But this could be about to change.

In November, communities and local government secretary Greg Clark announced that the government would begin to assert greater control over the fracking planning application process, after controversy over two potential fracking sites in Lancashire.

So what should the renewables sector take from this decision? And how can we view the prospect of commercial fracking in the UK as a result?

Central government and industry are strongly pro-fracking. Just today, in fact, the UK government has voted in favour of fracking under national parks.

However, despite this, many NGOs and local communities are fighting exploratory wells, which means that drilling progress to date has been virtually non-existent. Despite industrial and regulatory commitment to strict health, safety and environmental standards, there is widespread scepticism about whether these promises will prove to be sufficient environmental guarantors.

For example, in June, Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s planning applications for exploratory drilling at sites in Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. Local community concerns, including increased truck traffic, noise and light pollution, appeared to have won out.

Cuadrilla has appealed against the decisions and Clark has announced that the government, rather than the local authority, will now have the final say on whether fracking is to go ahead in Lancashire. This marks a refreshed attempt to kickstart fracking in the UK.

This move towards centralised decision-making presents a stark contrast with the promises given by the Conservative government regarding the process of onshore wind development.

In its 2015 manifesto, the party contended that ‘onshore wind farms often fail to win public support’ and, therefore, the planning process would be altered so that ‘local people have the final say on wind farm applications’. On 18 June, a ministerial statement confirmed this goal had been achieved.

But the government appears less interested in handing down powers than it does in axing wind projects. Despite this rhetoric about local decision-making, it was announced in early September that the Department of Energy & Climate Change had blocked the development of five out of six onshore wind projects in Wales. Notably, recommendations on behalf of the Planning Inspector that two of these rejected projects should be approved, were ignored.

This inconsistency in procedure between fracking and onshore wind, in addition to the dubious localisation of onshore wind decision-making, presents a case of central government manipulating the planning process to achieve the outcomes it desires.

This tells us that concerns regarding the growth of fracking in the UK should not solely focus on any potential environmental harms. The centralising of decision-making for fracking is a clear signpost as to the direction of wider UK energy policy.

It serves to compound the fears of those on the sharp end of cuts to the onshore wind sector this year, and places a question mark over how the government intends to keep pace with new emission reduction expectations agreed at COP21 in Paris.

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