In the wake of Brexit, the government should protect the “vital funding” provided by the EU to regional communities, the Local Government Association (LGA) has urged. However, with so much uncertainty at Westminster, could the EU funding for regeneration projects in the UK disappear completely?
Having previously dangled the carrot in front of local authorities to incentivise approval of fracking developments in the form of their promise to allow them to keep 100% of business rate revenues generated by fracking, the Conservative government now seems to be bringing out the stick.
An announcement from Department of Energy & Climate Change dated 13th August declared shale gas is a ‘national priority’, and warns that “shale applications can’t be frustrated by slow and confused decision making amongst councils”.
Consequently, new measures are being introduced to fast-track shale gas planning applications, including:
- Revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes to monitor groundwater. Adding shale applications as a recovery criterion for appeals.
- Empowering the Communities Secretary to call in on shale planning applications and recover appeals.
- Identifying councils that fail to rule for or against oil and gas planning applications within 16 weeks, with a view to handing the final decision to the Communities Secretary.
- Forcing the Planning Inspectorate to prioritise shale application appeals and call-ins.
- Commentators believe the move is a direct response to Lancashire county's rejection of Cuadrilla’s applications to frack in the area, which came after repeated delays as the council carefully gathered and considered evidence.
Critics also say the government is attacking the right of local communities to decide whether or not they want fracking in their area.
Lancashire county council’s cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services Marcus Johnstone told The Guardian, “I can see what the direction of travel is: it’s to remove local determinism, and the right of local people to have a say”.
Friends of the Earth’s planning adviser Naomi Luhde-Thompson seconded Johnstone’s assessment, arguing that “These changes are being made because the Government doesn’t agree with the democratic decisions councils have been making”.
However, councils now face a tough decision as the business case for fracking continues to stack up. As well as the promise of business rates revenue from shale gas developments, the government announcement refers to proposals to be presented ‘later in the year’ regarding the design of a new “sovereign wealth fund” that could help bolster council coffers.
In light of continued cuts in central government funding, councils may be forced to risk the ire of sections of their community in exchange for greater financial security in the future. Delay, and the decision could be taken out of their hands regardless.
As East Devon and Powys councils introduce plans to join eight other local authorities across the UK in moving towards three-weekly residual waste collections, we take a look at the rationale behind, and potential impact of, the decision.
East Devon district council sees the shift as a significant step towards improving 2013/14 recycling rates of 44.75% and Powys council is taking steps to move them closer to its 2020 target of 64%.
The rationale is that cutting residual waste collections forces residents to carefully consider what can be recycled; and if reduced residual waste collections are accompanied by an increase in recycling capacity, the trade-off seems like a fair deal.
East Devon council, for example, plans to increase the list of materials that can be disposed of in commingled recycling boxes, meaning there should be a rebalancing of housing waste rather than an enforced cut.
Health and hygiene
A big concern is that standing waste will cause health, odour and vermin problems. The World Health Organisation recommends that waste be collected weekly in temperate climates like the UK, a suggestion that is supported by the National Pest Technicians Association, which warns that fortnightly collections can cause an increase in rat infestations.
These fears can be addressed by measures like secure bins to deter pests and making provisions for households with a high volume of contaminated waste – like nappies or medical waste – to ensure that quality of life isn't affected by the changes.
One of the biggest arguments for these changes is the savings they can deliver. Opponents argue that innovations like shared services and vehicle maintenance schemes, which have been successfully implemented by Bournemouth and Christchurch councils, are viable ways to make similarly-sized cuts.
Choosing one or the other might not be an option, however, as government cuts force individual councils to reduce spending by tens of millions – Powys council alone, for example, must save £27m over the next three years. As cost-saving measures are implemented, however, councils across the country must be sure to factor in the price of contingency plans to ensure residents don’t suffer.
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