Guest column: Shale gas firm cannot just ignore local democracy

Sir Kevin Barron MP
Sir Kevin Barron MP

I have recently been contacted by a number of constituents who are rightly furious at the plan by INEOS to bypass local democracy by asking for its application at Harthill to be referred to the planning inspectorate.

I am informed that this decision has come out of nowhere as I understand the company was entirely amenable to the delay until a hearing in January.

This gave it time to consider how to address the transport issues highlighted by council officers. It also allowed Rotherham Council time to work through the hundreds, if not thousands, of consultation responses.

It is essential that local people’s voices are heard throughout this process.

There has never been any suggestion of an ‘indefinite delay’ or anything of the sort, so I struggle to see how this request would be granted.

In the Conservative manifesto it states that ‘we must maintain public confidence’ in shale gas exploration.

I do not understand how that fits with the ability to evade the local planning authority made up of elected officials.

It is also essential that the planning process for a development of this kind is seen to be open and transparent.

INEOS cannot be allowed to run roughshod over local communities.

We must allow local democracy to take its course, whichever way that may be.

This week I also pledged my support to the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in delivering against its objectives to make a lasting and positive impact on the employment, skills and health of residents in former mining towns and villages.

In Rotherham borough, 30 per cent of residents have no skills or qualifications.

The statistics still make for difficult reading but we know if we come together to combine our resources we can continue to tackle the ongoing issues.

The challenges within coalfield communities are not something we can tackle alone and that is why I am supporting the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT).

When we work together we know that we have a stronger and longer-lasting impact, reaching those who need our support the most.

The CRT has also launched its Coalfield Investment Fund proposition to Government and minsters, asking for a contribution of £30 million, to be combined with its own investment of £10 million, to establish the £40 million fund.

This will be used to develop new industrial space in former mining areas and, on completion, bring an estimated 1,000 jobs to these communities.