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Fracking could be 'imposed' on Sheffield in 'reckless dash for gas', claims councillor

Anti-fracking protesters in Ecclesfield, Sheffield
Anti-fracking protesters in Ecclesfield, Sheffield
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Fracking could be 'unfairly imposed' on Sheffield, it has been warned, after new measures designed to speed up shale gas exploration were unveiled.

Business secretary Greg Clark today set out steps to streamline what he called the 'disappointingly slow' planning process surrounding the controversial energy source.

Business secretary Greg Clark

Business secretary Greg Clark

They include introducing a £1.6 million fund to help local authorities dealing with shale applications and consulting about whether the early stages of shale exploration should be considered 'permitted development' - meaning planning permission would not be required.

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He also said communities secretary James Brokenshire would 'actively consider' calling in shale applications, taking the decision out of the hands of local authorities, particularly where they had exceeded deadlines.

Sheffield Council opposes fracking, in which a mixture of water and chemicals is blasted deep into the ground to release shale gas.

Councillor Jack Scott

Councillor Jack Scott

Councillor Jack Scott, cabinet member for transport and development, was quick to condemn Mr Clark's announcement.

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He said: "We need a revolution in renewable energy, not more dirty fossil fuels. But today it is clear that the government wants to press on with a reckless dash for gas, regardless of evidence, public opinion or the impacts on local communities."

He accused the Government of 'caving in' to the fracking industry and 'ploughing ahead' with plans to exploit shale gas regardless of local views.

"Despite its empty words about local consultation, the government is setting a dangerous precedent in taking away local decision-making on planning decisions, and putting it in the hands of Tory ministers," he added.

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"This could see fracking unfairly imposed on areas against the will of local communities."

Mr Clark claimed shale gas hidden beneath the UK's surface could provide a relatively clean source of energy and deliver 'substantial economic benefits' for the UK as a whole and local communities.

However, Phil Daly, an anti-fracking campaigner from Sheffield, said the process was harmful for the environment and for people's health.

"This smacks of desperation from a government trying to jump-start this unwanted process," he added.

Greenpeace accused ministers of 'trampling over democracy to prop up this collapsing industry', while Friends of the Earth claimed the Government's plans could make England's landscape 'a wild west for whatever cowboy wants to start drilling and digging up our countryside'.

But Ineos Shale's commercial director Lynn Calder welcomed the announcement as a 'step in the right direction, adding that 'some environmentalists inhabit a la-la-land where renewable energy is a magical force that is always available'.

No planning applications have yet been submitted for shale gas exploration in Sheffield.

The chemicals giant Ineos was recently refused permission by local authorities to carry out fracking exploration at sites near Woodsetts and Harthill in Rotherham, and at Marsh Lane in Derbyshire, but it has appealed against those rulings.