Councillor thinks 15-year-plan could thwart fracking threat as row continues

Call to vote on the Island Planning Strategy after fracking announcement (From left: Cllr Joe Robertson, Cllr Jonathan Bacon, Jacob Rees Mogg MP (photos of Jacob Rees Mogg and the fracking site by PA).
Call to vote on the Island Planning Strategy after fracking announcement (From left: Cllr Joe Robertson, Cllr Jonathan Bacon, Jacob Rees Mogg MP (photos of Jacob Rees Mogg and the fracking site by PA).

Days after the government lifted a ban on fracking, a leading local councillor claims a crunch vote could help protect the Isle of Wight - but his comments come in the middle of a row over when that decision will take place.

On October 5, members of the Isle of Wight Council will vote on the Island Planning Strategy - around a year after Islanders were first consulted about it.

A vote was due this month, but the matter was delayed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Now, an extraordinary meeting is in the diary to consider a document that will impact planning decisions on the Isle of Wight for the next fifteen years, taking the environment, community, housing, economy, transport and growth into account.

Isle of Wight Council's County Hall in Newport.

However, it looks set to take place without a number of Island councillors, some of who will be at the Conservative Party conference, in Brighton - triggering calls for the meeting to be rearranged.

"Worrying announcements"

Cabinet member for the environment, Jonathan Bacon said: "Last week worrying announcements were made by the Government.

"I, for one, do not want to see us in a situation where we may have to deal with new threats of this type.

Although Cllr Bacon admits the Planning Strategy is 'not directly relevant to the issue of fracking', he says: "Following a lot of work, it creates a context which is much more focussed on our environment and includes policies to protect and enhance our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, our Dark Skies, the Biosphere and the pursuit of our Climate Change Strategy through the Mission Zero project."

He insists it could also afford the Island some protection against the process - which will now be allowed for the first time in parts of the UK since 2019.

What is fracking?

Fracking is the process of hydraulic fracturing, which uses high-pressure liquid to release gas from shale formations.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said lifting the ban means future applications will be considered “where there is local support”.

Developers will need to have the necessary licences, permissions and consents in place before they can commence operations.

Scotland says its ban will continue.

In a bid to address the energy crisis, triggered by Russia's war in Ukraine, Business and Energy Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said the Government would “realise any potential sources of domestic gas” - despite a manifesto promise in which the Conservative Party said fracking would only be allowed if its safety could be guaranteed.

Meanwhile, while Jacob Rees Mogg has argued a 'higher level of disturbance', as a result of fracking, is in the national interest, shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said it was "a dangerous fantasy – it would do nothing to cut energy bills, costs more than renewables, and is unsafe."

On the Isle of Wight, Conservative group leader, Cllr Joe Robertson, called for a new date to ensure 'political neutrality', so members who had concerns about the Island Planning Strategy could be there.

Community action group Sustainable Freshwater called the arrangement of the October 5 date "an overt and clumsy abuse of process", however the Isle of Wight Council's chairperson, Cllr Claire Critchison, said it was the first available date and was arranged to 'put residents first'.

Much of the Island was identified as a possible fracking zone in 2015 - prompting a campaign group call Frack Free Isle of Wight. However, in recent years, exploratory oil drilling has been more likely - until licence holder UKOG walked away in July, when plans for a well were thrown out at County Hall.