I fear fracking ban is not yet watertight
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