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Hydraulic Fracturing: North East Derbyshire

Volume 631: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2017

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential effect of hydraulic fracturing in North East Derbyshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about an issue of immense importance to me and to the residents of the constituency that I have the privilege to represent.

North East Derbyshire is part of the petroleum exploration and development licence 300, which was issued by the Department a couple of years ago. About a year ago it became apparent that we would probably see some exploratory drilling in my constituency, close to the picturesque village of Marsh Lane, which is in the stunning Moss Valley in the north part of my constituency. A formal planning application came forward for this exploratory drilling on 8 May. The holder of the PEDL licence, INEOS Upstream has put forward an application for exploratory drilling in Marsh Lane. That planning application is still under way with the minerals authority of Derbyshire County Council and we expect a decision on that application in the new year.

I want to place on record my complete and absolute opposition to exploratory drilling, which may lead to fracking, in the North East Derbyshire constituency and particularly at this particular site near Marsh Lane. I will talk extensively about my reasons for doing so. To be clear, North East Derbyshire does not support or want this application, and it does not want to see drilling on a historical, agricultural area of land, which can clearly be seen for miles around as it is on the brow of a hill in the middle of green belt, next to a conservation area.

I know that fracking is a hugely controversial area of public policy, and I cannot hope to do justice—

This is an important issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the country, but we need to make sure that we continue to look at alternative sources of energy for this country, where energy security is a big concern for domestic users—for their own electronic equipment and devices—but also for businesses as we hope to encourage them to come here. More alternative methods should be looked at, and I am hoping to have tidal lagoon in my constituency to generate energy.

My hon. Friend highlights a point that I will come to in a moment: we have a variety of potential opportunities here, including some we have not necessarily thought about previously, such as tidal lagoons.

Proponents of fracking would argue that the United Kingdom, blessed by large-scale energy resources, should take the opportunities to harvest the energy beneath its sea and soil, to improve our energy security and ensure we are diversifying our energy mix. “Rejoice!” they will say, “The United Kingdom has a long and rich history of mining in this part of the world and across the United Kingdom as a whole, and fracking is just another innovation in a long seam of innovation that helps to heat our homes and allow us to drive our cars.”

The alternative argument is equally clear and concise, if not more so. “Fracking,” say its opponents, “is an energy activity which we do not need and should not support.” For some, that is down to environmental concerns. The continuation of hydrocarbon development in our country is not something we should support, in understanding the challenges we have in the coming decades. For others, such as me, it is the sheer imposition and impact of this kind of activity on areas that have been rural for hundreds of years and never seen anything like the kind of development that is proposed if fracking happens.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem with the application in his constituency is not just the impact it will have there, but that it could be the tip of the iceberg for applications in surrounding constituencies, such as my own, that are in urban areas? This is not just an issue for rural areas. All the surrounding areas are considered to be high risk by the Coal Authority.

The hon. Lady brings up an important point—one that I will come to later in my speech, because it is vital to understand that specific point before we conclude.

Some will argue from an environmental perspective, some from a perspective on the sheer imposition of activity, and others will be concerned about the uncertainty that fracking brings, for a multitude of reasons, which I cannot hope to go into in this short debate. Others would simply point to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opinion tracker on fracking, which shows that only 16% of people were in favour of fracking in the latest survey in August this year.

I acknowledge that the Government take a different view from me and many of my residents. I accept the place the Government start from—I have no criticism of that—which is that we need to improve our energy security, diversify our energy mix and ensure we can bridge to the future when renewables can take on a greater share of the energy generation that we need in this country, but I do not agree with the Government’s conclusion on this particular issue.

I accept that energy production has fallen by over a half since 2000, that we are back to pre-North sea oil levels of imports and that we are obtaining an increasing volume of gas from Qatar to heat our homes. I accept that renewable energy remains at a smaller level of energy generation than we would all hope, although it has grown massively from negligible levels just a few decades ago. Even as a fracking sceptic, I accept that there is a debate to be had on how we continue to keep our homes warm, our cars moving and our factories working.

City of York Council policy is to not have fracking, yet INEOS Upstream is at its heels. In Kirby Misperton, 99.2% of the community in a survey said they did not want fracking, but fracking is now going ahead. Is it not vital that we listen to the community and also the environmental protectors, who are there night after night and day after day protecting that site at Kirby Misperton, wanting to ensure that those environmental standards are upheld?

I point out that the interventions are incredibly long—they are becoming mini-speeches. I ask that the hon. Member be given the courtesy of being able to continue his speech.

I agree with the hon. Lady in terms of the importance of local communities being taken along with the country as a whole when it comes to fracking. Whatever people’s views are on fracking, there is certainly a job to be done on that.

Notwithstanding all the challenges to national policy I have described, that does not mean that we should automatically default to being in favour of fracking. In the main Chamber today we heard other examples of how we can improve and make better use of energy through new tax breaks and by trying to re-stimulate North sea oil. I welcome such activity, but I do not believe that the United Kingdom is so far having the conversation that it needs about the impact that fracking will have in some areas, such as mine.

In addition, we have not understood properly the issues that will be created for nearby residents, for businesses that need to continue to operate on a daily basis and for communities who will live in the shadow of the kind of proposals put forward for North East Derbyshire. Even if one agrees with the principle of fracking—I respect absolutely those who do, but that is another discussion we do not have time for now—that does not mean that fracking is appropriate in all circumstances or all places, or that it should be supported in all instances. That is the crucial point for me. Fracking is a highly intense, high-impact, large-scale set of activities, often but not always in rural areas, and it will change the nature of our countryside for decades. It cannot be the case even for the most ardent of its supporters that fracking is appropriate everywhere. If it should not be done in some places, I am positing that it should not be done in north Derbyshire because it is inappropriate there.

As the MP for a constituency that is also in Derbyshire, I accept the valid points that the hon. Gentleman is making. Is it not most regrettable that the Government have passed policy meaning that even if county councils reject an application for fracking, that will almost certainly be overturned under the Government’s guidelines and therefore the views of communities are not being taken into account?

I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making, but I am not sure that I necessarily agree with her conclusion. There have obviously been some places where the planning inspector has rejected the rejection of the planning authority, but in others the planning authority accepted the application in the first place or the planning inspector has not yet made an absolute decision. I do not think it is as cut and dried as the hon. Lady suggests.

I have no doubt that I will be labelled a “nimby” for what I am saying in this debate. It might be said that I do not like it just because it happens to be in my part of the world and that I would not be here right now if it were not for the fact that the field that it is being proposed to dig up is in the middle of my constituency. Many of my constituents would have absolutely no time for those sentiments. North East Derbyshire is not full of nimbys. We have spent most of the past four centuries digging up coal, oil and gas in order to support people, to heat their homes, to allow them to drive their cars and to enable them to ensure that their factories still work, and we have lost men, sacrificed health and scarred our landscape as a result. On a personal level, both my grandfathers worked down the pits; one died as a result of the health injuries that he incurred down there, and the other lost his leg. Many of my constituents worked in the production of energy for many years. The last coal mine in my area closed within living memory. I have sat in living rooms that have lamps from 40 years ago, collected when the mines were still open, surrounded by the memorabilia of those coal mining areas, which are now saying that they do not want fracking in their part of the world.

We are not nimbys. We have looked at the proposal in our area and we have concluded that Bramleymoor is a thoroughly inappropriate place to undertake this activity. We have rationalised, for good and honest reasons, why we do not want the kind of industrialisation that this would bring. Some in my area have gone further and turned against fracking as a whole; a number would ban it. Whatever the disparate reasons—I do not concur with all of them—we are stronger together as a group and we stand as one and say in unison: we do not want the Bramleymoor Lane application; we do not need it; and we should not have it.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the biggest downsides to fracking is the amount of traffic movements involved? While this application does not directly impinge on my constituency, if contractors take a different route through Ridgeway village, it could cause major problems for my constituents as well.

I absolutely concur. I will come to traffic in a moment, but I understand that if this application goes ahead, the traffic management plan is likely to propose that it goes away from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. However, I cannot imagine the concerns that lorries going round 90° bends and down one-way streets would create in Ridgeway and Ford, were that to happen.

As I said, the location of this proposal is Marsh Lane, which is a small and picturesque village in my constituency with approximately 800 residents, in the stunning Moss Valley just south of Sheffield. Those constituents have been hugely welcoming of me since my election last June. The village has two pubs, a bustling community and a primary school of about 100 children. This proposal would be just a few hundred metres from where those primary schoolchildren play on a daily basis.

Near Marsh Lane, and also substantially affected, would be the villages of Apperknowle and Unstone, the suburb of New Whittington, the towns of Dronfield and Eckington, the hamlet of Troway and the village of Coal Aston where, if this goes ahead, it is expected that thousands of lorry movements will traverse narrow streets, go round the sharp country bends—as the hon. Gentleman talked about—and go past the frontage of hundreds of houses in order to enable the activities taking place down the road. By any measure, Bramleymoor Lane is a thoroughly inappropriate place to frack.

Picture the brow of a gentle hill, which can be seen for miles around. If this application is approved, a 60 metre-high drill rig will go on the brow of that hill for months to enable the initial drilling. Even when that drilling rig is removed—I accept that it will not be there for the entire time—the planning application confirms that up to 17 different bulky and highly visible items would remain there for up to five years: a 2 metre-high fence, 4.8 metre-high bunding and fencing, multiple 3 metre-high cabins, acoustic screening up to 5 metres in height, four lots of security cameras of 5.5 metres high, a 9 metre lighting rig, a 10 metre-high emergency vent, a 4.5 metre-high pressure control and a 4 metre skid and choke manifold. This is not a minor incursion into a landscape with similar features. It is the wholesale industrialisation of the Derbyshire countryside, which has never, at least on public record, seen the kind of changes that are proposed. I have spent time in the Derbyshire Record Office going through and looking at maps, and as far as I can see Bramleymoor Lane has had three centuries of agriculture and nothing like the kind of industrialisation that is proposed.

The effort required to start this process is large, imposing and disruptive. If it happens, there will be 14,000 vehicle movements over the next five years. Various road layouts leading to the site would need to be reconfigured, not because the cars using them every day need that to happen but because the huge lorries that would need to come through to set this up cannot get around the corners and the paraphernalia that is already on the road. There would be the removal or reduction of an undetermined amount, but probably up to half a kilometre, of mature hedgerow that has probably been in that location since 1795, when the enclosure Acts created the aesthetic in that part of the world. There would be the installation of permanent lighting across the site, just a few hundred yards away from families and houses, and many more things I could mention, including the impact on animals, flora and fauna; the loss of land likely to have been in agricultural use for centuries; noise impacts; and the potential for air pollution. Whatever our view on fracking, if there was ever a place for it not to go, it would be here.

When I speak with residents they are often in tears about this issue. They are reasonable people and they understand that the United Kingdom needs to make progress. They understand that the Government have a challenge to ensure that we have the energy we need to heat our houses, and they understand that we need to ensure the safety and security of our energy supply going forward. But, respectfully, they are unconvinced by this proposal. A petition on this specific topic has now reached 88,000 signatures. There are 5,000 objections to the planning application alone.

Yet it is my final point that is of particular concern to me, and it was referenced briefly a moment ago. Everything I have described so far is for a single application for a period of up to five years. I hope it does not go ahead; but if it does, my concern is about the wider impact if that drilling is successful and it is determined that Marsh Lane, Bramleymoor Lane, my constituency as a whole and the neighbouring constituencies are appropriate places to frack.

The drilling companies themselves have indicated that, in such an instance, the kind of impact that I have described would be multiplied many-fold over the near area. Up to 30 wells could be accommodated within a 10 km radius, according to the applicant’s own leaflets, of which I have copies. That equates to a concrete well pad, machinery and rigs for some of the time, and all the impacts every couple of kilometres, which I have just described. In addition, new pipelines and significant traffic movements to bring in water will be necessary—tens of thousands of vehicle movements, multiple fracking sites and myriad pipelines, all primarily in rural areas. Whatever our view on fracking, that is a wholescale change to our landscape and an even more pronounced reindustrialisation of an area. Such a planning application for anything else—housing, business or commercial—would be rejected.

The motion states that the House has considered the potential effect of hydraulic fracturing in North East Derbyshire, so we need to consider the noise, the pollution, the traffic, the disruption, the change, the pipelines, the rigs, the well pads, the security, the fences and the impact on that beautiful part of the world. The residents of my constituency have considered it, I have considered it, the villages around Marsh Lane have considered it, and we do not want it.

As ever, it is a great pleasure to take part in a debate chaired by you, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for securing the debate and the other hon. Members for their interventions. I am afraid that I do not know his constituency personally, but I say to the Opposition Members from Sheffield that I was brought up in Attercliffe in Sheffield, so I know the area quite well. [Interruption.] It is not the posh bit, it would be fair to say. Apart from my memories of Castle Market in Sheffield, where my father had his market stall for most of my childhood, I have no local knowledge, but I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend.

I accept that this is not really a debate about fracking versus not fracking—a topic that this Chamber and the main Chamber could discuss for several hours, if not several days—but I want to put on record my view that shale gas clearly has the potential to power growth, support thousands of jobs and provide a new energy source. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) said that fracking has its plus points and makes us less reliant on imports from abroad, and so on. I felt that point was well made, and it does have to be made.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire is aware, it is not really for me to comment on the Marsh Lane planning application. That is exactly what our local planning system is for. However, having heard from him in his eloquent remarks about the number of protests in the area against the petition and all the official responses, I feel that while my job has its contentions, I would not like to be one of the local councillors on the evening when that is considered.

It is for me to mention some of the matters that a local planning authority should consider when making its decision. Planning is a quasi-judicial process and any planning decision should be taken in line with due process and a fair hearing. To ensure that the local community has had the opportunity to raise any material considerations, the planning authority will seek views from the local community—as the planning authority presumably has, given what my hon. Friend said. That provides, quite properly in a democratic system, precisely the platform for the kind of process that he mentioned.

Given that 99.2% of people around Kirby Misperton raised serious concerns in the consultation, how can the community have a voice when it was completely ignored and the fracking went ahead?

I am afraid that I do not know about that particular application, but we have been discussing the local planning procedure and I am sure that the officers and councillors of that area would take that into consideration—[Interruption.] Well, in my experience of a lot of planning applications in my constituency, they do in some and in some they do not. I cannot say that we have had anything like fracking, but in the normal system, that is what the democratic process involves.

The cumulative effect of shale developments need to be taken into account. The national policy is clear: when planning permission is granted for shale gas, the cumulative impact of potentially multiple shale sites has to be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire made that point towards the end of his speech. Such sites are not just considered in isolation. That is part of the national planning policy. Local authorities have the power to assess and restrict the cumulative effects of shale sites, which include some points that he made about the adverse impact on the natural or historical environment. The Government’s view is that the protections are sufficient.

As with any construction project—my hon. Friend might not want any in his constituency; that is a perfectly reasonable view—there will be some element of disruption. The planning guidance clearly sets out how surface-level considerations—such as noise, dust, air quality, lighting and the visual impact on the local and wider landscape, as well as traffic, which the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) mentioned—should all be addressed by the local planning authority. That has to be considered. Such authorities, including his own, can refuse the application or impose operational restrictions for that reason or any other that they consider appropriate.

In my understanding, from the research that we did when we found out about this debate, the application at Marsh Lane is not for hydraulic fracturing, but for stratigraphy tests—I hope hon. Members will excuse my lack of a scientific background, but the application is not for hydraulic fracturing.

My constituency also falls under the same local authority. Given that the Minister will ask the local authority to look into all the very valid points raised by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), if the application is thereby refused by the local authority and is called up before the Secretary of State, will the Secretary of State then give due weighting to exactly the same arguments from the community in contravention of the guidance that has been given?

I am not actually making a point about this case; I am saying that there is a duty to look into all these points.

The Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government—not at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, because this is not dealt with commercially, but as a planning application—does, I am sure, know their duties perfectly well, which in this case are quasi-judicial in nature and, I am sure, include those particular things—[Interruption.] Well, they do.

As for the benefits of shale, all our constituents have to consider what the benefits and disadvantages might be, as with anything else. The benefits might include a community benefit fund, for example. In Lancashire, there was an application in which Cuadrilla—another company that does this sort of thing—announced that £100,000 would be given to an independent community benefit fund. Local residents are consulted on this matter. The Treasury recently set out proposals on how the new shale wealth fund will be delivered. I will not go into detail on that, because I know there is very little time left.

Local people are part of the whole system, which could deliver very large sums of money to constituents in these areas. They may decide it is not for them, but they also have the right to decide democratically that it might be. I would not rule that out. That money is in addition to any existing local government funding. It is not there to replace existing projects, but it would improve local jobs and tax revenues, and so on. There are plus points.

The Government will only allow the development of a shale gas industry in a safe way, both for the environment and local people. There are plenty of legal safeguards, through the Infrastructure Act 2015 and other measures. Some environmental issues were mentioned in relation to mining in previous generations, including flooding, all of which the ancestors of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire would have suffered from, so those are already in the system. We have banned fracking from many valuable areas such as national parks, the broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

I wish I had more time, but I will conclude by saying that, if successful, the shale gas industry could have good points for the country, but as with anything else there is a balance between supporting the industry and protecting the countryside. There is flexibility in the local planning system to ensure that the views of local communities are considered and that local planning authorities take into account the particular characteristics of a proposed site—that is why it is a “local” system. The Government are keen to see shale gas go ahead in the UK, because we want the opportunity for the country to benefit from it, but I fully accept all the points made by my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on making those points—everything he said has been carefully noted.

Question put and agreed to.