Council leader: Hampshire won’t be ‘bought off’ over fracking

NO THANK YOU ''Protestors gather in Havant town centre to campaign against possible fracking in August. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (132362-271)
NO THANK YOU ''Protestors gather in Havant town centre to campaign against possible fracking in August. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (132362-271)
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THE leader of Hampshire County Council says local authority’s should not be ‘bought off’ over the issue with fracking.

Councillor Roy Perry’s comments come after the Prime Minister said local authorities in England would receive 100 per cent of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes - rather than take half of the pot.

The move is part of an ‘all out’ drive to exploit the controversial pressure mining technique.

The Government believes it could generate billions of pounds for the economy, support 74,000 jobs, and lower energy costs.

Cllr Perry said: ‘It wasn’t clear to me whether he (David Cameron) was talking about county or district councils, so that’s one of the issues that needs to be sorted out.

‘While I welcome any source of revenue for local people to benefit local development, I firmly believe any (fracking) application would have to be judged on its merit.

‘I don’t think we should be bought off.

‘I am sure there are some places where it can be undertaken with minimal impact on the environment and so it has to be considered, but if there were to be environment damage as a result of fracking, then we would have to put the environment first.’

The French energy firm Total is due to confirm this morning that it is investing in fracking exploration in the UK, by taking a share in a licence in the Midlands currently operated by a US firm.

Whitehall officials said the business rates commitment would mean councils hanging on to up to £1.7 million extra a year from each fracking site.

They stressed that the mining industry had already pledged to give local communities £100,000 for each test drilling - and a further 1% of the revenues if shale gas is discovered.

Mr Cameron said: ‘A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future is to back businesses with better infrastructure.

‘That’s why we’re going all out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country.’

But environmentalists accused ministers of trying to ‘bribe’ local authorities. Lawrence Carter of Greenpeace said: ‘This is a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area.

‘Cameron is effectively telling councils to ignore the risks and threat of large-scale industrialisation in exchange for cold hard cash.

‘But the proposal reveals just how worried the government is about planning applications being turned down.

‘Having had their claims that fracking will bring down energy bills and create jobs thoroughly discredited, the government is now resorting to straight up bribery to sell their deeply unpopular fracking policy.’

A Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman said: ‘Councils have been clear that the people and communities whose areas host fracking sites must feel the benefit.

‘Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister is a step in the right direction, which will mean that business rates paid by shale gas firms will help councils to maintain and improve local services for residents.”

He went on: ‘While it is encouraging that government is listening, local areas will be keen to hear more details on how the community benefits package will be strengthened to fairly renumerate those who will be most affected.

‘Given the significant tax breaks being proposed to drive forward the development of shale gas and the impact drilling will have on local communities, these areas should not be short-changed by fracking schemes. One per cent of gross revenues distributed locally is not good enough; returns should be more in line with payments across the rest of the world and be set at 10 per cent.

‘The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people.

‘The LGA is encouraging the development of models which will ensure cash is used to support local priorities and which will treat money from fracking separately from ordinary tax revenue.’

Friends of the Earth senior campaigner Jane Thomas said: ‘It’s ironic that a French-owned company is seeking to drill the UK for shale gas when it’s banned from fracking in France due to environmental concerns.

‘Fracking is not the solution to our energy problems - experts say it won’t lead to cheaper energy bills and the Government admits shale gas and coal bed methane development could have significant impacts on local people and the environment.

‘The best way to build an energy system that doesn’t cost the earth is to invest in a comprehensive energy efficiency programme and develop the UK’s huge renewable power potential.’

Energy Minister Michael Fallon insisted that the incentive on offer was the same as for other renewable technologies such as wind farms and solar energy.

‘It is only right, when there is local growth and local jobs, that the councils are able to retain more of the business rates in order to help improve or maintain local services,” he told BBC Breakfast.

‘I think that is only fair that local people should see some of the direct benefit.’

He went on: ‘I hope councils will look at the exploration of shale in a responsible way.

‘We now know that we are sitting on hundreds of millions of cubic feet of shale gas.

‘We do not yet know whether we can get it out as effectively as they have got it out in the US. We do not yet know whether it could be a really good reliable source of cheap energy. That is why we do need to explore.

‘We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled over the next couple of years. We want local people to benefit from that in terms of the jobs and in terms of the extra growth that it will bring.’