10. What steps she is taking to safeguard protected areas from shale gas development. (903594)
Shale gas could become a very valuable new industry, and it is in the strong interests of the UK to explore its potential. However, we are determined to protect our most valuable spaces and have consulted on banning surface-level drilling in the most precious areas. We have also regulated to set the minimum depth of hydraulic fracturing under sensitive areas.
Last month, I held a second successful fact-finding fracking meeting at Helsby high school, ably assisted by the Environment Agency, Public Health England, and the Health and Safety Executive. Over 400 constituents from Frodsham and Helsby left better informed. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage regulatory bodies to engage further in such public meetings?
I am impressed by my hon. Friend’s managing three F-words in one parliamentary question. It is vital for local communities to have access to the facts about fracking and our stringent regulations, and I congratulate him on organising those important events. We are working with the regulators to make sure that they have every opportunity and encouragement from the Department to engage with the public. The Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, the Oil and Gas Authority and Public Health England regularly attend public meetings such as the one he mentioned, and they will continue to do so.
An application was made to start drilling at a little place called Calow in the Bolsover area. Most of the villagers were against the application, and it was turned down by the local planning committee. It then went to the Government inspector, because Cuadrilla wanted to appeal, and the Government inspector turned it down. Now I am told that it is possible that the Government are quite capable of overruling the decision of their own inspector and allowing fracking. Is that correct?
First, may I wish the hon. Gentleman a very happy birthday? I am sure that all Members would want me to do so.
I spent it on the picket line yesterday with the doctors.
The hon. Gentleman is a real challenge to, but a role model for, the House in the work that he does. I genuinely congratulate him and wish him a very happy birthday. In terms of the appeal, he has set out exactly what is supposed to happen. Local communities have their say and feed into the process. Developers can appeal, of course—it is right that they should be able to—and the inspector can turn it down. There is an appeal process. I am not sure about the specifics of the case he mentions, but the point is that democracy is done, and is seen to be done. That is very important.
Whatever happened to localism?
That is localism in action.