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The Government is announcing today a bidding process for licenses on fracking – new rules will exclude World Heritage Sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from the round of licenses except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Forty per cent of the land owned by the National Trust is in the National Parks of England and Wales and the conservation charity owns large areas of land in AONBs. Here is the Trust’s reaction to the announcement from Richard Hebditch, Assistant Director, External Affairs:
“It’s right that the Government has recognised the concerns about fracking in special places like national parks and AONBs. We welcome the new planning guidance which will makes clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances.
“But it’s not just national parks and AONBs that could be at risk but other special places too, which is why we’d like to see this approach extended to nature reserves and other wildlife sites like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) as well.
“This is a significant change in approach from DECC. We hope it will reflect a much more cautious approach that recognises the risks of turning some of the most special places in the country over to industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.”
An Infrastructure Bill which could make fracking for gas easier was announced in the Queen’s Speech today.
Rick Hebditch, Assistant Director for External Affairs at the National Trust, said:
“The Government has only just started consulting on changing the trespass law to make it easier for fracking. It’s a little presumptuous therefore for the Government to say today that the Infrastructure Bill will open up access for shale given the continued concerns from the National Trust and others about how well fracking is regulated.
“It’s also important that all the measures in the Infrastructure Bill, including on planning, get proper Parliamentary scrutiny in the short session before the election. Adding in measures on fracking would mean there’s less time for scrutiny, which could lead to poor policy that doesn’t address perfectly legitimate concerns about the process.”
There are very real dangers for the environment in going all out for fracking. That’s why we’d like to see specific changes to its planning and regulatory framework, including ruling out fracking in National Parks and in sensitive environmental areas.
We are concerned about the government’s proposals to amend the law of trespass and access rights for fracking and we will look carefully at them. Our position on fracking is clear – if fracking were proposed today on our land we would say no.
We look to the Government to ensure that its consultation on these major changes to access rights is fair. We would be very concerned if decisions were to be rushed to try to put changes into legislation before the election next year.
We have previously raised broader conservation concerns in our report ‘Are We Fit to Frack?’, which was written jointly with other leading countryside groups. It can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/fracking
It contains ten recommendations for making fracking safe:
Avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources by creating shale gas extraction exclusion zones.
Make Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) mandatory for shale gas extraction proposals.
Require shale extraction companies to pay for a world-class regulatory regime.
Prevent taxpayers from bearing the costs of accidental pollution.
Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.
Require all hydraulic fracturing operations to operate under a Groundwater Permit.
Make sure the Best Available Techniques (BAT) for mine waste management are rigorously defined and regularly reviewed.
Ensure full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact.
Ensure monitoring and testing of shale gas operations is rigorous and independent.
Minimise and monitor methane emissions.
Our full position statement on fracking can be found here.
A major milestone will be passed today with the completion of the UK’s largest marine source heat pump, off the North Wales coast, to provide all of the power needed to heat the National Trust’s breath-taking Plas Newydd mansion.