Tax offer could open the door to fracking in West Norfolk

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A government plan to offer tax breaks to authorities that allow energy firms to drill for shale gas would be taken into account if any West Norfolk sites were proposed, council officials have admitted.

It emerged last month that the borough is currently being considered as an area where the controversial process, known as fracking, could be allowed.

Now, the Government has unveiled a proposal to allow local authorities to keep all of the business rates which would be payable in association with a fracking site, instead of the normal rate of 50 per cent.

Ministers claim the scheme would make councils up to £2 million per site, although critics have dismissed the idea as a bribe.

Michael de Whalley, co-ordinator of the West Norfolk Green Party, said the idea had emerged because ministers were well aware of the strength of public opposition to the process.

He said: “We should be moving towards a more sustainable solution. Fracking pushes us down the road of fossil fuels which will run out, become more expensive and damage the environment. I think they will find it their folly.”

But West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney said he could understand why the Government was looking at the idea, because of the amount of gas currently being imported from overseas.

He said: “We all want to go to the wall and flick a switch and the light comes on or turn the key of the car and the engine starts and it has to get there somehow.”

Any companies that wanted to drill for gas in West Norfolk would ultimately need to seek planning consent from Norfolk County Council, who act as the planning authority for major infrastructure projects.

The council has already set up a working group to consider the implications of any potential fracking proposals in the county, though it is thought that any proposals would be unlikely in the short to medium term.

A spokesman yesterday insisted that the starting point of their consideration of any potential scheme would be whether it adhered to the county’s existing minerals plan.

However, she added: “Business rates would be one of many material considerations that we would consider 
when dealing with an application.”

Supporters of fracking argue that the process will help to create tens of thousands of new jobs and secure the nation’s energy supplies for several decades to come.

But opponents fear the potential for contamination of nearby water supplies caused by the escape of chemicals into ground water and the possibility of minor earth tremors causing by the drilling process.