No this is not another rehearsal of the wrongs of fracking which worry us all but more the planning process that goes on within Councils over highly controversial issues like this. Let’s start with the news that Lancashire Planning Officers have made a recommendation that will see fracking start in Fylde Borough if councillors vote to accept their report next week – see link below to the BBC news item:-
Planning Officers always try to teach, or is that indoctrinate, councillors that planning is simply a matter of interpreting planning law, guidance and policy to define whether a proposed plan is acceptable or not. Of course that says nothing for the real world of politics, lobbying and the pressure that elected councillors can be put under.
Imagine you are a councillor in Lancashire at present representing the Fylde and you are on the Planning Committee. You would be subject to all kinds of pressure in the form of massive Council reports, lobbying of campaigners, e-mails by the dozens from concerned citizens saying what will happen to your electoral chances if you vote the wrong way and amongst this you may even get some mail from supporters of fracking.
Now what do you do at the Planning Committee meeting when you are sat there with the eyes of the world seemingly on you, as it is you has to make the decision?
You could simply vote against the officers recommendation with a beggar the consequences approach. After all the applicant will simply appeal the decision and a Government appointed Planning Inspector will make the decision for you. Job done, you have done the right thing electorally and the Planning Inspector gets the blame if he/she gives the plan the nod.
You could look to bring in more delaying tactics in the hope that in the intervening time something will come along to make things easier. I have seen this done a few times, particularly by Labour on Sefton’s Planning Committee, by proposing a deferral. In fact usually not much changes but the process can give campaigners the feeling that they may be winning when all that is happening is that local politicians are playing for time.
You could just vote for fracking because if you represent a ward that is not likely to be affected by it in the foreseeable future then your calculation could be that your electorate will not be much bothered. This calculation is I suspect usually right but this is a big, big issue.
Members of the real planning committee will be going through all these thoughts and more as they are pulled one way then the other. Planning committees usually endorse what planning officers recommend but when the wheels are coming off politically you can bet that the control that the officers usually like to have have over planning members is simply not there.
By the way the real issue will be what the majority political group do on the Planning Committee. Yes I know that the rules say that there can be no whipping on a planning committee but votes can often go down party political lines in the real world.
Who would be a Planning Committee member with such decisions to take?