The Government has given the go-ahead for fracking at a site in Lancashire, overturning the county council’s decision on the scheme.
The controversial process can now go ahead at Preston New Road, Fylde, after Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave the green light for shale company Cuadrilla to drill up to four wells.
But there is a reprieve for a second site in Lancashire, Roseacre Wood, which has not yet been given the green light amid concerns over impacts on the local area.
Following a public inquiry into the two schemes, the planning inspector recommended the Preston New Road scheme, originally supported by Lancashire County Council officials but turned down by the planning committee.
The inspector recommended that Cuadrilla’s appeal to be allowed to frack at Roseacre Wood be dismissed.
But Mr Javid said he was giving Cuadrilla and other people further opportunity to address concerns about the site, and was “minded” to allow the appeal and grant planning permission if issues surrounding highway safety could be dealt with.
Environmentalists and local campaign groups reacted angrily to the decision, which they said went against the wishes of residents.
Pat Davies, chairwoman of Preston New Road Action Group, said: “This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this Government neither listens nor can it be trusted to do the right thing for local communities.
“It is deplorable that an industry that has been rejected on every level has inflicted itself on Preston New Road.
“Westby Parish Council, Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council planning committee all said no to this application. These reasons were based on facts and knowledge, they rejected the site as unsuitable.
“Dismantling the democratic process to facilitate a dirty fossil fuel industry when only months ago the UK committed to climate change targets in Paris is another example of saying one thing and doing another.”
She vowed the group would challenge the decision.
Friends of the Earth North West campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “This is bad news for Lancashire – the community have been fighting fracking for more than five years. This fight continues until this unproven and unpopular industry disappears for good.
“Instead of shoving us down a dangerous path that inevitably leads to climate change, the Government should invest in renewables and energy efficiency, an emerging industry that could create 24,000 jobs in the North West alone.”
Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin said: “Theresa May cannot build a 21st century industrial strategy on a polluting and inexperienced fracking sector that won’t deliver for years, if ever.
“If the PM wants to promote an affordable and fair energy system whilst bolstering business growth and job creation, renewable and smart energy technologies are the way to go.”
When David Cameron was prime minister, he said the Government was going “all out for shale” to boost the economy, jobs and energy security, and soon after she took over as PM, Theresa May launched a consultation which could see home owners receive individual payments for fracking wells drilled nearby.
But the process – in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas – remains highly controversial, with many protesters turning out for the public inquiry.
Opponents of fracking fear the process can cause earthquakes, pollute water, lead to damaging development in the countryside and hit house prices.
With the Government set to ratify the global Paris Agreement on cutting greenhouse gases before the end of the year, environmentalists argue fracking for fossil fuels is not compatible with tackling climate change and the focus should be on renewables.
In his decision, Mr Javid agreed that “all material, social, economic or environmental impacts that would cause demonstrable harm would be reduced to an acceptable level and that the projects represent a positive contribution towards the reduction of carbon”.
Pam Foster, co-founder of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, who lives in nearby Lytham St Annes, said she was “absolutely disgusted” that the Government had disregarded evidence that fracking is bad for public health and the environment.
“The Government is making such a laughing stock of themselves,” she said, pointing to speeches by Ms May in which she said she would stand up for the little man.
“This is a total denial of democracy. Our parish council, our borough council, our county council all threw out this application.
“We have pursued every democratic channel we can do, there’s nothing left for us. We’re pretty disgusted and very upset.”
She insisted the campaigners would continue to fight fracking “peacefully and legally”.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The Communities Secretary has today allowed three planning appeals related to two proposed shale gas exploration and monitoring sites in Lancashire.
“The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two-week public inquiry.”