Communities should have greater control over fracking, ministers have been told, amid concerns over the potential “random industrialisation” of the countryside.
Conservative former minister Nick Herbert cautioned the Government against implementing a manifesto commitment to allow exploratory drilling without planning permission.
Mr Herbert stressed he did not object to permitted development rights in principle, although he suggested this should not be extended to shale gas exploration.
Other Conservative MPs also voiced concerns, with Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire) saying he is “convinced fracking does not have a place” in the UK’s future energy mix, adding: “The Government should abandon it. It is wasting time.”
Communities minister Kit Malthouse said no final decision has been taken on bringing forward the permitted development proposals for fracking.
Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) pointed to the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto, which spoke about liberalising the planning regime linked to shale gas.
Mr Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) replied: “We stood on many other manifesto proposals that have not seen the light of day.
“I would gently suggest to the minister… that this is one proposal that it would be wise to keep firmly locked away in the bottom drawer.
“It would not be wise to allow that activity to come under the permitted rights regime, and that would not be an appropriate use of that planning procedure.”
Mr Herbert said he does not have an “in-principle objection” to the extraction of oil or gas and he did not want to enter into a debate about the merits of fracking.
But he said: “I know that there is concern about the potential random industrialisation of the countryside.
“We cannot allow that to happen through one tick in a ministerial box, and then find that we have no control over it subsequently, except in protected areas of national parks.
“Local authorities have to have the ability to take a view about the impact of, for example, traffic movements, to decide whether levels are appropriate and, potentially, to impose conditions.
“That is why we should retain the existing planning regime for this activity, and why I would strongly suggest to the minister that this is not a proportionate or sensible policy that he should pursue.”
Opening the debate, Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse said of her constituency: “In Bath, not only is there a concern about global warming, there is also a concern that fracking would interfere with our hot springs, causing unknown damage to the water table, to our unique geology, and the natural springs, which are the very reason for Bath’s existence and prosperity through its rich history.”
For the Government, Mr Malthouse said: “I emphasise that no final decision has been made on whether to bring these proposals forward.
“The consultations have now closed and the Government are currently considering the representations made and will issue a response in due course.
“These consultations are part of a range of measures to make planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new shale gas development and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in the planning decisions that affect them.”