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Peter Lamb: Planning exists for a reason

Last month, I joined with hundreds of other elected representatives in calling for the Government to drop its plans designating exploratory drilling for fracking as ‘permitted development’.

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Permitted development is where any planning application of a particular type gets automatically approved. If you want to know why so many of Crawley’s office buildings have been turned into poor quality housing, without parking or even bin stores to keep the rubbish off of our high streets, it was because the Government’s made these types of office conversions permitted development.

For the council, they have been nothing but trouble, you see planning exists for a reason, it’s there to protect the whole community from developments that harm the wider community and to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is put in place to avoid future problems. Without planning we are powerless to protect the neighbourhoods from developments that enrich a few at the cost of the many and spend years playing catch-up with the problems. This opposition to ‘planning’ as a concept by the Government certainly explains a lot of the mess we now find ourselves in on the national level.

No major development should skip the planning process, but when it comes to fracking the situation becomes much more serious, depriving communities of any say on one of the most controversial environmental issues of the day. Given that the biggest UK protests against fracking took place just down the road at Balcombe, next to Crawley’s nearest reservoir, it’s an issue which really hits close to home.

Fracking involves using various chemicals to break open rocks below the groundwater level to release the fossil fuels trapped inside. While it is believed that a well-regulated system can avoid polluting water supplies, where poor regulation is in place communities have found serious health issues emerging after fracking has begun. In the rush to attract fracking the Government has left us with one of the least well-regulated systems in Europe.

Were fracking completely safe, it would still be worth asking if we can afford to delay a switch to renewable energy sources. Instead the Government is trying to ensure that the wishes of communities are by-passed, regardless of the potential risks to people’s homes and health.

A full copy of the letter can be read below:

Dear James Brokenshire MP (CC Greg Clark MP, Kit Malthouse MP, Claire Perry MP),

The UK government has proposed changes to planning rules that would allow exploratory drilling for shale gas to be considered “permitted development”, removing the need for fracking companies to apply for planning permission.

The current planning framework for shale gas provides an important regulatory process for the industry, offering necessary checks and balances by local authorities who best understand the circumstances in their areas. Crucially, it also allows communities directly affected a say in how, and whether, shale gas exploration proceeds in their neighbourhoods.

We believe that applying permitted development to exploratory shale gas drilling represents a distortion of its intention and is a misuse of the planning system. Permitted Development was originally intended to be used to speed up planning decisions on small developments – like garden sheds or erecting a fence – not drilling for shale gas.

As elected representatives of our communities, we the undersigned call for the withdrawal of this proposal, and respect for the right of communities to make decisions on shale gas activities in their areas through the local planning system.

Yours Sincerely,

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

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