As with most things involving Welsh Labour, even when they make their position crystal clear, the end result remains as clear as mud!!
The Environment and Sustainability Committee met last Wednesday with the number one item on the agenda designed to establish the actual position regarding whether or not a moratorium exists in Wales on fracking. You can watch it for yourself below (click on image). Thankfully, you just need to watch the first 13 minutes.
AJ = Chair Alun Jones (PC Arfon)
WP = William Powell (LD Mid & West Wales)
CS = Carl Sargeant (Lab Minister for Natural Resources, Alyn & Deeside)
LG = Llyr Gruffyydd (PC North Wales)
SM = Sandy Mewies (Lab Delyn)
N.B. I may be paraphrasing to an extent, so check the video for precise words
WP – Do you think a moratorium is in fact in place in Wales?
CS – Yes, I do.
WP – Do you not see any legal difficulties with this?
CS – The directions to the 25 welsh planning authorities are clear that we do not hold the same position as the UK government in wanting to move ahead quickly with fracking and that we continue to hold to the moratorium position.
WP – Do you think extending this include UCG is appropriate given the different technology and licensing arrangements, and given the decision taken in Scotland [to ban it too]?
CS – We are considering this and will make a decision shortly
SM – Do we not need much more publicity to highlight the different position here in Wales compared to Engalnd as there is a lot of confusion about these differing technologies and the WG position?
CS – Lobby groups on both sides have produced lots of information and I believe a lot of the science behind it is not well founded and this is why we are taking the precautionary approach whereby positive outcomes cannot be made for applications to local [planning authorities – they have to be referred to WG.
LG – But that decision [by WG] would be subject to legal challenge and likely to be overturned if not on planning grounds.
CS – Everything is open to legal challenge in planning, but it is clear they cannot make the decision local level and that the application would be called in by WG.
LG – So unless you are telling us that you will reject that application, which presumably you can’t, you cannot tell us that the application will not go ahead.
CS – That particular line of questioning is unlawful. I cannot presume any decision and you are therefore playing politics as you know my legal position on this. I can’t understand your argument as we are actually on the same side here. The fact is that you are trying to create a loophole when in fact we have been very clear on the moratorium and I think you are trying to undermine the system.
LG – I am quite taken aback by that attitude. My job is to make sure the decisions you take are robust and scrutinised and I have had a great deal of correspondence from organisations and individuals who are concerned that word moratorium is being bandied about when, in fact, really it is not a moratorium.
CS – I disagree with you.
AJ – If you are not prejudging an application coming to you, you cannot say you would not approve it.
CS – Absolutely Chair, I am not allowed to prejudge any application, therefore the line of questioning led by the member is unreasonable.
AJ – But if you are not prejudging it, how can you say it is a moratorium?
CS – I am saying that the local planning authority are not allowed to pass an application.
LG – So we can agree that it is a moratorium on local planning authorities making the decision.
CS – Absolutely
LG – But that we cannot go further than that because of legal reasons.
CS – I cannot prejudge any application.
LG – I understand that.
There follows a two-three minute discussion as to why CS considers it impractical to extend whatever ‘moratorium’ exists to test drilling applications.
Labour are playing games here, if we look at what a moratorium actually is:
This all adds up to exactly what I and others, like Gareth Clubb at FoTEC, have long been saying. Clearly the only moratorium actually in place is on local authorities making decisions on fracking applications.
There are is no legally enforceable way of WG turning down fracking decisions brought before it on anything other than planning grounds. There are plenty of such grounds and there may well be the intention by Carl Sergeant and co. to do what they can to prevent it happening, BUT ……..
By his own admission, as things stand (and they may well change with the next devolution bill), he simply cannot say that there will be no fracking approvals granted. By any reasonable understanding of the word moratorium, I therefore (and regrettably) have no hesitation in declaring:
THERE IS NO MORATORIUM ON FRACKING
IN PLACE IN WALES
P.S. Carwyn Jones made it clear today (20/10/15) that even though the new Wales Bill will, finally, give Welsh Government the powers to put a proper moratorium or ban in place, it would still need ratifying by Westminster, and could easily be vetoed at the stroke of a pen, rendering it meaningless all the time we have a Westminster government intent on feathering its sponsors and donors nests with fracked gas when the time is right for profits to be made – the only criteria they live by.