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Fracking in Kent should be decided by Kent County Council, councillors argue

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Kent County Council claim the government’s plans to “streamline” the process of getting permission for shale gas digging is “chipping away” at the power of local authorities.

It comes after the minister for local government, James Brokenshire, shared his commitment to “make planning decisions faster and fairer” as plans for shale gas extraction “remain disappointingly slow”.

However, the county council believes this move to make decisions on where this gas removal can take place should remain with those who have “the local knowledge and expertise”.

Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling TowerMarcellus Shale Gas Drilling Tower, Wikimedia by Ruhrfisch (4915975)
Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling TowerMarcellus Shale Gas Drilling Tower, Wikimedia by Ruhrfisch (4915975)

Cllr Martin Whybrow (Green) gained unanimous support from fellow county councillors for his suggestion this move would “damage local democracy” at the full council meeting on Thursday.

He said: “Local councils should retain their powers around mineral planning.

“We are best to decide, on a case by case basis, for every application that comes in Kent.

“We have the local expertise, we have the local knowledge.

“I think it is important to protect local decision making and local democracy.”

The Green Party's Martin Whybrow (4915977)
The Green Party's Martin Whybrow (4915977)

Rallying up support, he added: “Would you want an application debated and decided in Maidstone or Westminster?

“How can we explain to residents how they have a much reduced input in the consultation if it happens up there rather than down here?”

The cabinet member for planning, Cllr Mike Whiting (Con), applauded his colleague for raising this issues but disputes Cllr Whybrow’s claims this could bring fracking to the south east.

Cllr Whiting said: “I am very much on the same page as Mr Whybrow in wanting to retain local control over local decisions that affect the residents of Kent.

A drilling rig, Pixabay (4915979)
A drilling rig, Pixabay (4915979)

“As things stand those wanting to carry out shale gas exploration must gain from us, the necessary consent to do so.

“The proposals from government seek to take some of that local decision making away.”

Cllr Seán Holden (Con) said: “We have seen the erosion of planning controls at local level all the time and this is an extension of that.

“I think it’s wrong. These are important decisions for a local community and this is not a decision to be made in Westminster or Whitehall and I don’t agree that’s right.”

However, Cllr Barry Lewis raised his concerns about the turnout of people to local elections, which is historically lower than general elections.

He added: “What would be the point of voting for any local council if they didn’t have any power to do anything?”

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