Like many local people I have been concerned about the issue and the possible impact of fracking in and around our city. Last year – as a result of extensive lobbying by our Council Leader, Paul Crossley, and I – the government (as explained below) agreed to give extra protections to World Heritage Sites including Bath.
In parliament earlier this week, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I sought and obtained a further series of safeguards. These are also set out below.
I care about Bath and I have worked tirelessly to ensure that the city is protected from fracking. The city and surrounding areas rely on the springs for its tourism and its heritage. That is why Cllr Crossley and I lobbied extensively to ensure Bath was ‘frack free.’
The reason I did this was because of the very real threat to the hot springs, the water from which is not only vital for our tourism industry but also because of the impact any diversion of the water could have on the “hydrostatic pressure” which supports the city centre. A change in that pressure could see buildings collapse.
The result of this lobbying can be seen in the Planning Practice Guidance:
“World Heritage Sites are heritage assets of the highest significance. Where a proposed development for unconventional hydrocarbons would lead to substantial harm to or loss of a World Heritage Site, mineral planning authorities should refuse consent unless wholly exceptional circumstances apply.” (http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk)
In the debate on Monday 26th January, we secured three key changes to the Bill. First, the Government will include an outright ban on fracking taking place in National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Government felt that the planning guidance they published in 2014 had given protections to these areas already, but they have sensibly decided following Liberal Democrat requests to put the issue beyond any doubt. This is a very welcome change.
Second, the Government agreed to set out a list of 13 “necessary conditions” that need to be in place before fracking can happen. These include ensuring an Environmental Impact Assessment takes place, independent inspections of wells, notification of local residents, and consultation with relevant water companies. If any one of these 13 conditions is not fulfilled, fracking cannot take place. The Government also announced that they would table an amendment to introduce a review that would look at the appropriate minimum depth that fracking could take place at. This review will report within six months, and its recommendation will be incorporated into the list of necessary conditions.
Third, the Government has agreed to a Liberal Democrat suggestion that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) should be required to produce reports on the impact of fracking on UK carbon emissions and consistency with carbon budgets. A new amendment will be tabled in the House of Lords that will require the Government to consider advice provided by the CCC and if they report that shale gas is having a negative impact on climate change in the UK then the Government will have to cancel the access rights for companies to frack (unless the landowner has specifically given permission) or explain to Parliament why they have not.
I think these are three important concessions and they build on the protections that we have ensured are already in place. These include requiring fracking companies to obtain all the necessary regulatory permits and permissions before they can start; clear planning guidance for councils deciding on fracking applications; company liability for any damage or pollution that occurs; a system of seismic monitoring before, during and after the process of fracking; and a rule that if a tremor takes place that is only as strong as a lorry driving past your house, fracking will be stopped.
Liberal Democrats have worked hard to ensure that the UK has the world’s toughest environmental protections on fracking. We are also ensuring that the extraction and use of shale gas will only take place if it can have a positive effect on our greenhouse gas emission levels and provide energy security as we try to find new ways of keeping the lights on in the coming decades. I hope this has reassured you that we have taken your concerns seriously and have worked hard to achieve these vital changes.
Bath MP, Don Foster and Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate Steve Bradley have this week been to see the great work being done by local nursery, First Steps Bath, which has nurseries in Twerton and Moorlands.
Mr Foster has opened up new sections of the nurseries in the past.
Commenting on the visit, Don Foster said: “I always enjoy coming to First Steps. It’s nice to speak to the staff and see the great care they are providing for the children, and as a patron I’m keen to see that Steve as our likely next MP knows all about our fantastic local facilities.”
The pair were given a tour of the nursery, including the new outside play equipment, and met some of the children at the centre.
Commenting Steve Bradley said: “The warm welcome the staff gave was fantastic. I’ve said time and again how I want to make Bath even better, and it’s for the children in the care here who will benefit.”
Politically, the Liberal Democrats have already significantly expanded free childcare – with all three and four year olds, as well as two year olds from the most hard pressed homes, now eligible for the equivalent of 15 free hours a week.
This has provided free childcare for over 2000 children in Bath, and tax-free childcare for 2,450 children.
Bath MP, Don Foster has welcomed the news that the number of unemployed claimants in Bath has continued to fall over the last year.
The current total of unemployed claimants in the Bath constituency is 787, which represents a rate of 1.8% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64. This includes 527 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and 260 people Universal Credit.
This shows a significant reduction in the number of unemployed claimants as the figure is now 250 lower than its total in December 2013.
Commenting Don Foster said: “The strong labour market performance hasn’t happened by accident. The Liberal Democrats have taken steps to ensure our labour market is fair and flexible, delivering opportunities for everyone and preventing exploitation of the most vulnerable.”
On a national level, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the unemployment rate has fallen below 6% for the first time since 2008. In addition, there is a record 14.4m women in work with the female employment rate at a new record high of 68.2%.
Commenting further, Steve Bradley, Lib Dem PPC for Bath: “The national and local figures are great news and highlight the great work being done by the Lib Dems both in Government and locally by the Lib Dem Council.”