Nick Herbert: Neighbourhood plans and fracking restrictions

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

Last week the residents of Angmering voted through their neighbourhood plan by an overwhelming majority. This is the third such plan in my constituency to go through, after Arundel and Kirdford. I’m a huge fan of neighbourhood planning which is returning power to local communities where it belongs. It’s localism in action.

Introduced by the Localism Act 2011, neighbourhood plans allocate sites for housing and protect green spaces from development. I attended a meeting of 300 local people in Storrington last week to discuss their proposed neighbourhood plan, and I think the response was generally positive.

We were all encouraged to hear from Cllr Ray Dawe, Leader of Horsham District Council, that they can give weight to an emerging neighbourhood plan when considering planning applications. This will help to resist speculative developments in local villages even before neighbourhood plans are fully in place. It is the result of a change to planning guidance which I secured last year.

This week in the Commons the Government promised stronger planning guidance to “defend the interests of local authorities” after I moved an amendment to abolish the Planning Inspectorate.

The Minister said that I had a “a powerful and persuasive case” after I criticised the Inspectorate for undermining localism and called for a new community right of appeal against adverse planning decisions which run contrary to emerging neighbourhood or local plans. I also tabled amendments to address concerns about fracking, providing for compensation to property owners where drilling for shale gas or oil extraction takes place deep underneath their land. People have understandable concerns about the Bill’s provision to allow this drilling, but I suspect many do not realise that it certainly does NOT permit access to the surface of their properties - or indeed less than 1,000 feet underneath.

Drilling for fracking takes place at enormous depths - around the height of Ben Nevis and over fifty times below the deepest underground tunnel.

My amendments did not go through but the Government agreed to thirteen new conditions before shale extraction can take place, including an environmental assessment. Ministers also agreed to an outright ban on fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and areas where drinking water is collected.

I did not support another moratorium on fracking as I do not believe that this would be realistic, but the conditions under which the activity can take place are now even tighter.