Bath and North East Somerset Council not interested in fracking ‘bribes’
Council chiefs have told Prime Minister David Cameron that they are not interested in getting a business rates boost in return for giving the nod to fracking.
The Premier said English local authorities agreeing to shale gas schemes would receive 100 per cent of the resulting business rates – rather than the usual 50 per cent.
The move is part of an “all out” drive to exploit the controversial technique, which the Government believes is worth billions of pounds to the economy, as well as supporting 74,000 jobs, and drastically cutting rising energy bills.
But critics of the proposals – which Bath and North East Somerset Council fears could dangerously disrupt the city’s hot springs – said Mr Cameron’s offer was tantamount to “bribery”.
Sites in the Chew Valley and on the Mendips have been mooted for drilling, and Total was due to confirm this morning that it was investing in fracking exploration in the UK, by taking a share in a licence in the Midlands operated by a US firm.
B&NES Council leader Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown) said: “Whilst the council is yet to assess the full detail of the Government’s proposal, our prime concern remains retaining the integrity of the natural hot springs. We have obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest otherwise than there is a potential for damage to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath. The process of fracking in the region could result in the watercourses leading to the natural hot springs being contaminated from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks.
“The hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city and generates millions of pounds for the local economy. The loss of these would be catastrophic having far-reaching effects for the overall offer of the West of England area. In short, we would not take any short-term business rate gain at the expense of the springs.
“The springs are a fundamental and unique element of Bath’s heritage, as a signatory to the 1971 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the UK Government has committed to ‘identify, protect, conserve, present and transmit’ such places to future generations. We trust that the Government will continue retain its overall commitment to this.”
Opponents stressed that the mining industry had already pledged to give local communities £100,000 for each test drilling – and a further one per cent of the revenues if shale gas is discovered.
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.”
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, business minister Michael Fallon said: Britain had to “embrace the extraordinary opportunities offered by shale gas” for the sake of generations to come.
“In the Seventies, North Sea oil helped salvage our economy from crippling stagnation. We have a similar chance to create tens of thousands of jobs and energy security.
“A mile and more beneath us lies deposits of gas-bearing shale rock with the potential to guarantee energy supplies in an increasingly uncertain and competitive world.
“If our boldness is matched by others in Europe, it could also drive down the cost of power for hard-working families and businesses.”
Environmentalists accused ministers of trying to “bribe” local councils. Local anti-fracking campaigners, Frack Free Somerset, say the group is opposed to the government’s plans to offer a huge tax break for any councils willing to approve fracking projects in their area.
A spokeswoman said: “We believe that at a time of austerity this is a very cynical move by the government, when councils up and down the country are facing all kinds of budgetary cuts. However, it appears tantamount to bribery and indicates just how desperate ministers are to push through this deeply controversial technology.
“They have seen the protests against fracking, and are willfully ignoring people’s concerns about the harm it has already caused to human health, livestock and the environment in the US and Australia, due to the disruption of radioactive radium within the shale, hazardous toxins polluting the water table and respiratory problems caused by air pollution, amongst other issues.
This announcement also highlights the degree of corruption at Westminster. When various ministers and special advisers are known to have vested interests in the fracking industry, it seems clear that they want to ensure a good return on their investments, and as David Cameron has said, they’re “going all out for shale”, regardless of the costs to the British people and the environment.”