Cumbernauld’s MP says Ewing moratorium ‘let down’ Scottish communities

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 12:56 on 29 January 2015.
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Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Labour MP, Gregg McClymont.
THE Scottish Government and the SNP ‘let down’ communities throughout Scotland, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East’s Labour MP has said.

During a speech to the Scottish Parliament yesterday afternoon (28 January), Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism announced he was implementing “a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking”.

As part of his ten-minute speech before the Scottish Parliament, Mr Ewing announced he had written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, to ask that the UK Government doesn’t issue any more licenses in Scotland.

The Minister also announced that Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities & Pensioners’ Rights would take forward work to strengthen planning guidance.

Mr Ewing added that Dr Aileen McLeod, the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform would, in tandem with the work being done by Mr Neil will tighten the environmental regulation that is in place through the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

A full public health impact assessment and a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction were also announced. 

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Fergus Ewing told MSPs: “The Scottish Government has long been concerned about the United Kingdom Government’s approach to the licensing of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. Following the Smith commission process, and given that licensing powers are coming to Scotland—something that I campaigned for and welcome—it makes no sense for the UK Government to exercise them in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government’s policy has been cautious, considered and evidence-based, whereas the UK’s approach has sought to develop shale gas quickly, at any cost. In particular, the Tory plan to remove landowners’ rights to object to fracking under their property is a disgrace. I formally objected to the UK Government plans and I am pleased that the UK will not now remove householders’ rights in Scotland.

“Given that precedent of not acting in a policy area that is about to be devolved, the UK Government should do the same with onshore licensing and not issue any further licences. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, last Friday to make that point. That is also why Scottish National Party MPs backed the amendment in the House of Commons, which called for a UK-wide moratorium on onshore oil and gas.

“This Government takes the issue of unconventional oil and gas, including fracking, very seriously. There are a range of views on the issue and we have tried to listen to all of them as we have developed our policy. We have listened carefully to concerns raised by local communities and environmental campaigners and have strengthened planning policy in five key ways, including the introduction of buffer zones for the first time.

“However, we need to do more. We recognise that local communities are likely to bear the brunt of any unconventional oil and gas developments, particularly through increased traffic and the related emissions and noise impacts, which are issues that must be more carefully considered and subject to further research. We are therefore working to further strengthen planning guidance, and my colleague Alex Neil, as the minister responsible for planning, is taking that forward.

“We have ensured that strong environmental regulation is in place via the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and made clear that we wish to tighten that further. Work to take that forward will begin shortly, in partnership with my colleague Dr Aileen McLeod, the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

“Last summer, when the independent expert scientific panel published its report, we said that we would look further at the public health aspects of unconventional oil and gas. I can confirm today that we plan to commission a full public health impact assessment. We have listened to legitimate concerns about the potential negative impacts. However, we must also acknowledge that some take a different view and see opportunities in unconventional oil and gas extraction. The oil and gas industry, in particular, has a potential interest in this area for a number of reasons, as does the chemical industry. Ineos has indicated that it can use shale gas as both a fuel and a petrochemical feedstock for Grangemouth. I am sure that I do not need to remind members of Grangemouth’s economic importance to the Scottish economy.”

He added: “I want to ensure that the voices of the communities that are likely to be most affected are heard in a more formal and structured way. I therefore announce that, in addition to the technical work that I have referred to on planning, environmental regulation and assessing the impact on public health, the Scottish ministers will launch a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction. That will allow everyone with a view on the issue to feed it into Government; it is a logical next step in the cautious and evidence-based approach that we have demonstrated to date and an example of this Government’s commitment to community engagement. It will also mean that longer-term decisions on unconventional oil and gas will be informed not just by technical assessments, but by a fuller understanding of public opinion.

“I have set out this Government’s cautious, evidence-based approach to date and the work that we will do to build on and further inform that approach. The further work that I have announced on planning, environmental regulation, assessing the health impact and holding a full consultation process will take time to complete. We will update Parliament on the timescales for that work in due course.”

Whilst the further research and the soon-to-be public consultation is carried out, a moratorium on granting consents for unconventional oil and gas developments in Scotland will remain in place. 

For Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East’s Labour Member of Parliament, though, the announcement by Mr Ewing was a “let down” for Scotland, saying that the Minister’s statement “doesn’t go nearly far enough.”

The Labour man said: “I am pleased that the Scottish Government has finally agreed to Scottish Labour’s demand to use the planning process to halt fracking for the time being. But today’s statement doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“It’s disappointing that after lots of noise from the SNP over the last few days they have let down communities across Scotland. The SNP Government had the chance today to confirm that no fracking will take place without the consent of the local communities affected, but failed to do this.

“We won’t just have a public consultation. We will give Scots a local veto over fracking.”

The MP pointed to the recent policy announcement from Scottish Labour Party Leader, Jim Murphy that, if his party was elected in 2016, they would ban fracking in Scotland until the lessons of fracking in the rest of the UK were learned; hold local referenda in communities where applications are live, before final planning approval is given; and, commission a comprehensive review of the baseline conditions before any planning application is granted.

Mr McClymont added: “It’s essential that SNP Ministers confirm that no fracking will take place in Scotland until we learn the lessons of what happens elsewhere in the UK. Scotland has been a guinea pig before on the poll tax. It can’t happen again on fracking.

“Scottish Labour has set out a triple lock system that will stop fracking in Scotland now. Under Scottish Labour’s plan no fracking will take place in Scotland without the local community affected giving its approval in a referendum.

“Once again SNP Ministers are prepared to ride roughshod over the views of people in communities across Scotland. It’s time for the SNP to think again on fracking.”

SNP MSP Angus MacDonald, though, welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement. Mr MacDonald’s Falkirk East constituency has become a namesake for unconventional gas extraction in Scotland, with an ongoing inquiry into the activities in Airth.

Welcoming Mr Ewing’s announcement, Mr MacDonald said yesterday: “Today’s announcement of a moratorium will be welcomed by communities across Scotland who have been alarmed by the gung-ho stance taken by the Westminster Government.

“Today’s statement brings welcome clarity and stands in stark contrast to Labour’s chaotic approach to fracking. This week saw Jim Murphy announce his party’s supposed opposition to fracking before his MPs failed to support a moratorium in the House of Commons.

“The SNP Government has acted where Labour’s MPs failed and have once again shown that Jim Murphy is more interested in political posturing than concrete action.”
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