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Greens Vs Government: Battle Looms Over Britain’s Energy Future

Robin Pagnamenta, The Times

Local councils were on a collision course with the government last night as a battle loomed over the awarding of almost 160 new fracking licences.

Councillors across England expressed fury at government plans to fast-track approval for dozens of new fracking projects in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and at threats to overrule councils if they drag their heels on planning decisions.

Gina Dowding, a councillor on Lancashire county council, which rejected plans by the shale gas firm Cuadrilla to drill wells on the Fylde coast in June, said it was “extremely shocking” that the government felt it could override local democracy.

“People who object to fracking are not going to roll over,” said Ms Dowding, who added that the council would continue to fight any application to frack in Lancashire. “Why else do we have local planning committees other than to give local people a voice?”

Darren Clifford, another councillor in Lancashire, which took a year to reject Cuadrilla’s application, accused the government of hypocrisy. “The government can’t talk of localism in one breath and then, when they don’t like the decision of local people, overrule it. It’s clearly not democratic. They should trust local people to make the right decision. Don’t pull the rug from under us,” he said. Mr Clifford said that Lancashire was struggling to meet a 16-week timeframe on complex fracking applications because of budget cuts of 62 per cent that have left it short-staffed. The county’s budget was cut by £178 million in 2014, the year Cuadrilla submitted its application to explore for shale gas.

“If you under-resource councils then of course they are going to be slow. You can’t get through these applications with an ever decreasing staff and budget,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change rejected the criticism. He said extra funds were available for councils if they were struggling to cope with applications for shale gas production.

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