A serious lack of joined up thinking at DECC…

Cumbria Trust was pleased to read today’s long overdue announcement from DECC that national parks and AONBs will be protected from fracking.  These areas are the most treasured parts of the British landscape and are rightly subject to some of the strictest planning rules.  This is particularly relevant to Cumbria which includes Britain’s premier national park, The Lake District and the Solway Coast AONB.

However, there is a clear lack of joined-up thinking in government.  Just last week, the same government department, DECC, brought out a new White Paper on Geological Disposal of nuclear waste.  This White Paper should have contained the same exclusion of national parks and AONBs, along with other environmentally sensitive areas, but they neglected to include this.

The exploration and construction phases for a GDF the size of Carlisle would be significantly more damaging and destructive than a fracking operation, so national parks and AONBs must be excluded.  The likely reason for this omission from the White Paper is the government’s desire to return to Cumbria.

During the MRWS process which was thrown out by Cumbria County Council in early 2013, the government-funded partnership employed a geologist who identified three areas as potentially suitable for a GDF. These were the Mercia Mudstone in the Solway Plain near Silloth, the Ennerdale Granite which covers an area from Buttermere to Ennerdale and then south to Nether Wasdale, and the Eskdale Granite in the Eskdale valley, running south to Corney Fell.  The first of these is within or adjacent to the Solway Coast AONB. The second two are within the Lake District National Park.

All three of these areas would have protection from fracking, and yet DECC has chosen not to exclude them from the search for a GDF site.  This inconsistency appears to have become a hallmark of DECC, where one part of the department has no idea what another part of the same department is doing.  During MRWS, DECC included areas of West Cumbria in the GDF search area, while at the same time offering licences for hydrocarbon exploration in the same place.  DECC’s own 2008 White Paper ruled out areas which were prospective for hydrocarbons, but this information seemed to get lost in DECC’s enthusiasm to site a GDF in Cumbria.

It is time for all parts of DECC to extend their national park and AONB exclusion to the search for a GDF site.