No doubt residents sighed with relief when permission for oil exploration was refused at Wisborough Green. WSCC seemed to say that other sites may be more appropriate, but we must now wait to find out where those sites might be.
There is surely something wrong with such a suck-it-and-see process, particularly when some firms may hope to move on to fracking. It should have been clear from the start that the site was not suitable.
To put villagers through uncertainty, wasting money and resources, was not smart and unacceptable sites surely need to be identified earlier on. Criteria to identify sites not appropriate for fracking, should also be established.
This is not just about the visual impact on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; disruption and risk to health is also important. So there must be a set of rules, which determine when and where fracking is not acceptable.
For now, many are unconvinced that fracking risks can be safely contained and confidence needs to be built up, starting with sites away from villages and away from aquifers. It would be arrogant to neglect the concerns that exist.
We really need to show that well-integrity can be maintained, that used water will not pollute aquifers and that traffic impacts can be limited. The Royal Society says that such risks can be managed, if best practices are enforced.
However, if human or material failure does occur, albeit rarely, we clearly don’t want it to be next to a village, or near to an aquifer. That is why we need the site-exclusion criteria, referred to above.
Unfortunately one Minister seems to want a bonfire of rules that might impede a dash for fracking, while another (Matthew Hancock) wants to fast track licences - although he would not impose wind farms on residents!
Surely he should review the reasons for regulations and amend them as appropriate, managing the risks and learning from experience, in slower time?
Hopefully Ministers will not repeat the NPPF debacle, which allowed speculative development against the judgement of councils and residents. We must hope that our MPs will not allow Localism to be over-ridden yet again.
Local residents might expect to benefit from fracking (eg via gas bills), but that benefit should be direct and not via a council’s coffers. However, it should also be clear that any individual, council or company that is careless or reckless, will be prosecuted.
Of course we need energy independence but not at any price. We also need to consider the potential impact on people, whether they are in AONBs or not.
Horsham district councillor for Chanctonbury and UKIP parliamentary candidate for Horsham, North Street, Horsham