Fifty seven earthquakes of up to 1.5 magnitude were detected in Lancashire last year in the two months when Cuadrilla was fracking at Preston New Road. Will the Minister commit to listening to communities such as mine in Lancashire and act in their interests to prevent permitted development rights being granted for shale gas exploration?
As the hon. Lady will know, we have consulted on these permitted development rights. I am hopeful, once consideration by colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has finished, that we will be able to issue our response to that consultation. I would, however, point out to her that our ability to access gas allows us to stop burning coal. This country has just been through its longest period of not burning coal, by far the dirtiest of fuels, since the industrial revolution.
I hope there will not be any changes that make it easier for fracking to be permitted through the planning system. Like many of my constituents, I am deeply concerned about some of the associated impacts on the environment that come with fracking. Can the Minister assure my constituents that an industrialisation of our countryside, which is what fracking is, will be treated in the same way in the planning system as any other industrial development in open countryside would be?
My hon. Friend has been a persistent advocate for his constituents on this issue. As he knows, alongside the consultation on permitted development rights for exploration, we also consulted on pre-application consultation steps that may have to be taken should an application proceed. Both those matters are under consideration by colleagues, and I hope we will be able to issue a response to them shortly.
I remind the Minister that the consultation he refers to closed last October. Twelve months ago, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee did a report opposing permitted development rights and opposing transferring part of the fracking regime to the national infrastructure regime. Given the amount of opposition on his own side, as well as on this side of the House, and in local communities, is the Minister now considering withdrawing those proposals and instead giving greater powers to communities to decide whether they want fracking in their areas?
The Chairman of the Select Committee is quite right to point out the timescale on which these measures have been under consideration, and I will certainly pass on his concerns to colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
I will give the Minister another chance. Everyone—from the Royal Town Planning Institute to Friends of the Earth—has criticised the Government’s plans to allow fracking to take place under permitted development, rather than by achieving planning permission, not least because it bypasses the views and concerns of local communities. Given the Government’s silence on this matter since the consultation last year, will the Minister confirm today that the Government will not proceed to use permitted development for fracking and will not dilute regulations covering seismic activity—as requested by Cuadrilla, again, today—but will accept that fracking is environmentally unsound and invest more in renewable energy sources instead?
The hon. Lady is normally quite precise, but I should correct what she said at the start. We consulted not on fracking taking place under permitted development rights, but on exploration in advance of a full application being made for fracking. Those consultations are still under consideration by colleagues, in particular those with whom we work closely at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I will impress upon them the House’s demands this afternoon that a response be forthcoming.