Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald has welcomed the news from the Scottish Government today that it is strengthening Scottish Planning Policy to reinforce environmental and community protection in planning applications for unconventional gas extraction.

The Scottish Government has announced plans for the new Scottish ...Planning Policy which comes into force next year, and includes guidance on community consultation. Mr MacDonald’s constituency is one of those affected by the UK’s first commercial Unconventional Gas (UG) development and this latest development has direct relevance to the current planning application by Dart Energy to extract coal bed methane in the Airth area of the Falkirk East Constituency. Angus MacDonald has lobbied in Parliament to have tighter controls introduced.

Commenting, Angus MacDonald MSP said:

“This is a welcome announcement – the improved policy will mean greater consideration is given to the impacts of the extraction on the local community, including buffer zones between the extraction and settlements.

“Environmental protection will also be reinforced to minimise the impacts of extraction on natural heritage and the water environment.

“As well as the planning process each proposal will be considered through the appropriate regulatory regimes and guidance from SEPA. Proposals for coal bed methane or shale gas production in Scotland will be studied on their merits, informed by reliable and substantive information on the availability of resources and the practicalities of their exploitation.

“There are no environmental permissions which would allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Scotland at this time.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland has also warmly welcomed the Scottish Government's strengthened commitment today to introduce buffer zones between unconventional gas developments and communities.

Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change spoke to a crowd of concerned citizens and environment groups outside the SNP party conference today in Perth and handed Friends of the Earth Scotland a letter from Planning Minister Derek Mackay. The letter says that Ministers have listened to the large amount of feedback on their draft planning proposals and are minded to introduce buffer zones around unconventional gas developments.

Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns, said,
"While this isn’t yet the ban we need, it is a firm step in the right direction and a huge problem for Dart Energy’s current plans for drilling for gas in Scotland. Dart should see which way the wind is blowing and give up now.

"We welcome the Government's recognition that buffer zones are necessary to protect communities from the worst impacts of gas drilling and fracking, and urge them to go further and join France, Ireland and many others by putting a stop to all fracking and unconventional gas activity. If Scotland is to play its part in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, we need to leave this fossil fuel in the ground."

An extract from Derek Mackay’s letter, addressed to Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said,

“I note in particular Friends of the Earth Scotland’s comments warmly welcoming the change to planning policy on unconventional gas from that set out in the current SPP; and I can confirm that I am minded that the change will go forward into the final version of Scottish Planning Policy, which will be published next year.”

The move is in line with policy in New South Wales, which brought in buffer zones of 2km near residential areas in February this year after strong community opposition.

Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling for a ban on all unconventional gas extraction because of the climate and local environmental and health risks associated with the industry. However, buffer zones would go some way to helping to protect the communities most vulnerable to the harmful impacts of fracking and coal bed methane.

The commitment from Mr Mackay comes on Global Frackdown Day, an international opportunity for people to call on governments to stop dirty gas exploration.

A public inquiry is due to consider an application for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth, near Falkirk, next year, following over 2,500 objections. The project, by Australian company Dart Energy, is the most advanced unconventional gas project in the UK. If it goes ahead, it could open the door on thousands of gas wells across the central belt of Scotland.

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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