Graphic: Council leaders mixed views on fracking potential for Norfolk and the Fens
- Credit: Brian Purdy
A way of plugging the black hole in local council finances or a bribe? Political editor Annabelle Dickson asks how fracking applications would go down with our local councils.
David Cameron has bullishly declared 'we're going all out for shale' pledging to allow councils who give projects the green-light millions of pounds more in tax revenues.
With a recently published Department for Energy and Climate Change map showing that much of the top half of Norfolk, and parts of the Fens, could be sitting on shale, some councils in our region may have to weigh up this offer.
Unsurprisingly opponents of the controversial shale gas policy, known as 'fracking', have branded it a bribe, and Eastern region Green Rupert Read, said it was a 'disgrace' that councils were being offered tax revenues while renewable energy was being 'starved of cash'.
But leaders of local authorities have not been completely dismissive. Fenland District Council leader Alan Melton said companies wanting to explore the area would be 'more than welcome'.
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He said: 'We are a sparse community and it could be accessed well away from communities. The only concern that I would have is that the road infrastructure around the Fens would need improving.
He said that the money raised through fracking for the council would be 'ploughed straight back into the community' into infrastructure and other capital projects.
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He added: 'Let's be realistic about it. We are all totally dependent on fuel imports for our supplies from volatile countries.
'North sea oil is running out. The burning of coal is unacceptable, wind turbines are unreliable. We need flexibility of supply. 'We have got to look at future generations. The only other alternative is nuclear fuel. I've always been a great believer of a 'mixed bag' energy supply - wind, oil, wave.'
Broadland District Council leader Andrew Proctor was more cautious, but said all options needed to be looked at.
'If we look at the way local government is financed, such as reduced grants, if there are opportunities to gain more income then we need to look at them, but we need to look at all things very carefully.
'We need to look at the planning, the community issues and what the benefits are overall.'
Tom Fitzpatrick, leader of North Norfolk District Council said that they would be 'very very cautious' about any move as the area was very dependent on tourism.
He added that there had been no applications in this area.
But Greens in the east of England have condemned the government's new offer of financial incentives to local councils who allow fracking to go ahead, saying it brought 'the danger of this unpopular and highly polluting industry closer to East Anglia'.
Dr Read, who is the Green Party's lead candidate in the east for this year's Euro elections, said it was a 'disgrace' that the government was bending over backward to 'bribe people into accepting fracking'.
He visited the Orbis Energy Centre in Lowestoft to meet wave and tidal power companies yesterday and said: 'Every penny of subsidy to fracking is a penny stolen from the pockets of the likes of us, living here in the east. 'And the only way we could get in on the cash would be to trash the north of Norfolk, which is the last thing any sane person would want to do.'
But Mr Cameron said: 'A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure.
'That's why we're going all out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country'.
The Prime Minister said local authorities in England would receive 100% of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes - rather than the usual 50%.
The Government believes it could generate billions of pounds for the economy, support 74,000 jobs, and lower energy costs.