A COUNCIL boss has expressed concerns amid an ongoing Government consultation over potential changes to permission for fracking and exploratory drilling.

Earlier this year, the Government launched the consultation which included a proposal for fracking sites to be classified as “nationally significant infrastructure”, which would mean approval for planning applications would be done at a national rather than local level.

The consultation will seek views on whether to designate exploratory drilling for shale gas as a new form of permitted development, meaning that planning consent would not be required.

It added that exploratory drilling for shale deposits are treated separately from full hydraulic shale gas extraction but both will remain subject to strict planning and environmental controls.

But Blackburn with Darwen Council deputy chief executive Denise Park said the proposals could leave the public with the perception that their views are being ignored.

In a report to go before next week's planning and highways committee, she said: "Companies looking to carry out exploratory investigations in Blackburn with Darwen, followed by testing and possible extraction of onshore oil and gas, including shale gas, must apply for planning permission to the council.

"Applications are assessed under plans and strategies jointly prepared by Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool Council. The Joint Advisory Committee for Strategic Planning

oversees the production of these development plan documents, and its membership includes the council’s executive member for regeneration (Cllr Phil Riley) and the relevant chair of the planning and highways committee (Cllr Dave Smith).

"It is recognised that under the current regime, there is a final option for a minister to “call-in “ a decision made by the local planning authority and over-rule a planning decision.

"However, this still allows the perception to the local communities that the application has been considered by the locally elected council and their representations have been taken into account as valid material planning considerations.

"Whilst the proposal does provide opportunities for consultation with local authorities and communities there will be a significant loss to local decision making, particularly when local authorities are best placed to understand their local area and consider how fracking can best take place in their local communities.

"There is a strong feeling that any proposal to include major shale gas production projects within the nationally significant infrastucture projects regime would undermine the public’s perception of the planning system similar to the permitted development rights proposal, and introduce developments that could be at odds to any local planning policy.

"If the Government still wishes to bring such projects within this regime, it is considered that the criteria should be set so that only the most major of shale gas production schemes which are truly of national significance are affected."