Monday, 23 June 2014

Finding out about fracking

In previous blogs I have written about the need to have a national debate on the issue of fracking. To date that has not happened, but on Saturday West Sussex County Council did its bit by holding its own Fracking Information Day at Pulborough Village Hall.

We know that there are residents who are very concerned about fracking and that there are also some residents who are very supportive of it. But there are also a large number of residents who just want to find out more information and come to a view themselves. That was one of the main reasons for holding this event, and we chose a Saturday to encourage as many people to attend as possible.

The process for anyone wanting to apply for a licence to frack is quite complex. It does not just rest with the County Council as the minerals planning authority. There is the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Environment and Climate Change. Each and every one of those agencies has to be satisfied that their own specified criteria is met before any licence or permission is granted and all permissions have to be granted before anyone can start – that takes time.

Just writing about this sounds complex so it is important to try and demystify and help people to understand who does what and why.

This we aimed to do on Saturday, supported by our partners from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, our Planning Team and the Department of Environment and Climate Change. Staff gave up their time to help provide information, through displays, chatting one to one in response to people’s queries and concerns or through the various presentations which ran throughout the day.

Friends of the Earth and three Community Action Groups from Balcombe, Fernhurst, and Wisborough Green also were invited to ensure all different viewpoints on this issue were available to all residents.

Residents dropped in throughout the day and it was good to see a real interest but - even more importantly - a real respect for each other’s views.Feedback has been positive with many residents stating they had a better of the issues and the process around fracking having attended our event.

Part of what WSCC does is to help people to help themselves and this event I believe helped residents to understand more about this important issue. We’ve already had early discussions with the other agencies who attended the event to see about putting on another one.

The County Council as I see it has two roles in oil and gas exploration and extraction. As the Planning Authority we have to consider each oil and gas exploration application in accordance with the planning framework. Our stance on fracking is neutral to ensure each and every application is judged on its own merits, but our other important role is to provide clear, understandable information for the residents of West Sussex which we will continue to do as we did on Saturday.

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