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Wirral Council rejects Government fracking plans which could see English side of Dee Estuary drilled

Plans to remove the need to get permission to frack or drill for gas have been emphatically rejected by Wirral Council.

The move would allow the government to remove the requirement of obtaining local planning permission before fracking – essentially fast-tracking the process – and there are fears that could mean rebooted plans to drill for gas in the Dee Estuary.

With the ongoing controversy over fracking in Lancashire – including the weekend’s news that Blackpool was hit by five earthquakes in three days after it started again earlier this month – the council has chosen to speak out.

The move is currently subject to a government consultation, and on Monday, Cllr Anita Leech, cabinet member for environment, said they “must be opposed.”

She said the council has written to the Secretary of State and formally responded to the consultation hoping to block these proposals, and added:

“The government consultation makes no case or provides no evidence why the existing local system of regulating oil and gas exploration cannot be continued.

“There is no evidence of the national need for major shale gas production or justification for fast-tracking these decisions against the wishes of local residents and elected representatives.”

She said the Government was told “loud and clear” at the 2015 General Election that Wirral “does not support fracking,” adding: “Tory Esther McVey MP lost her seat in Wirral in part because of concerns over drilling in the Dee Estuary, but now this Government is back trying to push decision-making over fracking and gas exploration in Wirral away from local people.

“Local residents are urged to add their voices to those of their local Labour councillors to stop this latest assault on our environment.

Conservative plans to transfer fracking and gas exploration to proposed permitted development rights will leave Wirral’s coast and green space at the mercy of those who prioritise a profit from fossil fuels over the protection of our local environment.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the pumping of vast quantities of water and chemicals into unstable rock to release combustible gas.

Gas company Cuadrilla began operations at Preston New Road in Lancashire last week after a last-minute legal challenge failed in the High Court.

That was then followed by the Blackpool area being struck by five earthquakes between Thursday and Saturday, with the British Geological Society blaming the operations.

Last week, a Merseyside MP said he feared fracking was “much more likely” to take place in the region.

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterton said the process starting again in Lancashire was a blow to residents living near Preston New Road, and also to people on Merseyside who are fighting planning applications to frack for gas.

Cllr Leech’s statement comes as a government consultation over ‘permitted development for shale gas exploration’ draws to a close.

Speaking about the consultation, a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “No one benefits from delays in planning decisions.

“That’s why we are committed to planning reforms to help ensure quicker decision making on shale applications.

“We are holding early stage consultation on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development, and this consultation is currently in process.”

By Tom Houghton – Local Democracy Reporter.

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