I fear frack­ing ban is not yet wa­ter­tight

Stirling Observer - - GLORY OF AUTUMN -

Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties will be cel­e­brat­ing the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s in­ten­tion to ban frack­ing an­nounced last week.

The prospect of up to 600 wells be­ing sunk in the wider Stir­ling area was a ma­jor threat to both our lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and efforts to tackle cli­mate change.

In 2014 my col­league Ali­son John­stone MSP moved a mo­tion to ban frack­ing at Holy­rood. Only the Greens voted in favour but now all par­ties, ex­cept the Tories, back a ban. It’s been a long cam­paign, but the voice of com­mu­ni­ties has fi­nally won through.

But we are not over the line yet. While the in­ten­tion is wel­come I have se­ri­ous doubts about whether the “ban” as it stands now is wa­ter­tight. It is sim­ply an ex­ten­sion of a mora­to­rium set up in 2015 that was only ever de­signed to be tem­po­rary. Stir­ling Coun­cil’s plan­ning de­part­ment was sent a let­ter at the time and asked to not make de­ci­sions on any ap­pli­ca­tions for frack­ing while the Scot­tish Govern­ment ran a public con­sul­ta­tion and de­cided what to do next.

Now that na­tional con­sul­ta­tion has fin­ished and the govern­ment has made up its mind, coun­cils have been writ­ten to again and told to just keep the brake on de­ci­sion mak­ing “in­def­i­nitely”.

I’m not con­vinced this flimsy ap­proach would stand up in court, es­pe­cially if chal­lenged by com­pa­nies who hold li­censes to drill with plan­ning ap­peals await­ing de­ci­sions. It’s been two years since the Airth Coal Bed Meth­ane Public In­quiry fin­ished, yet the re­sult is still in limbo. There is no rea­son why this couldn’t be chal­lenged and no rea­son why a dif­fer­ent govern­ment couldn’t re­verse the “ban” with one sig­na­ture.

There is a na­tional ban on new nu­clear power sta­tions in Scot­land, but it’s on a stronger foot­ing and is re­flected in Scot­land’s high­est plan, the Na­tional Plan­ning Frame­work. We also have new pow­ers over oil and gas li­cens­ing com­ing to Scot­land and yet so far there has been no cat­e­gor­i­cal as­sur­ance from the Scot­tish Govern­ment they will use these pow­ers to prop­erly ban frack­ing when they ar­rive.

So there’s still some dis­tance to go un­til a ban is fully de­liv­ered and much will ride on a vote at Holy­rood in a cou­ple of weeks.

I was touched by the sup­port for the Park of Keir cam­paign when I joined hun­dreds of protesters march­ing on the beau­ti­ful Gal­lows Hill a cou­ple of weeks ago. The Scot­tish Govern­ment un­der­mined and over­ruled the con­clu­sions of the public in­quiry, the Lo­cal Devel­op­ment Plan and the de­ci­sion of Stir­ling Coun­cil on what was a lo­cal rather than a na­tional mat­ter. We won ev­ery ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment against the spin of a PR ma­chine, what lies next with ne­go­ti­a­tions over plan­ning con­di­tions will be in­ter­est­ing, public scru­tiny and anger is cer­tainly not go­ing to go away.

The third plan­ning is­sue to pon­der is Forth­side’s fu­ture and the pro­posed clo­sure of the Mead­ow­forth De­fence Sup­port Group site. Any jobs that move away from our area are re­gret­table, but this clo­sure has been on the cards for a long time and is why Stir­ling’s Lo­cal Devel­op­ment Plan ear­marks the site for much needed af­ford­able hous­ing. It’s dis­ap­point­ing then to see SNP and Tory MSPs un­der­mine re­gen­er­a­tion plans by ar­gu­ing that a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity should be kept in the city cen­tre. We need new af­ford­able homes in the right places!

Fi­nally, you can con­tact me via email mark.ruskell.msp@ par­lia­ment.scot or phone on 01786 448203. My Stir­ling of­fice on 67A King Street is also open on a Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day, and you can drop in to book ap­point­ments. You can also catch my speeches, cam­paigns and other work on Face­book – Mark Ruskell MSP – Scot­tish Greens and on Twit­ter @ markruskell

It’s been a long cam­paign, but the voice of com­mu­ni­ties has fi­nally won through

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