Minister to decide over Lancashire fracking appeal
The decision to allow shale gas drilling - or fracking - in Lancashire will be made directly by the government, it has emerged.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark informed Lancashire County Council of his intent on Thursday.
Energy firm Cuadrilla is appealing against the council's refusal in June to allow fracking on two sites.
Most planning appeals are usually decided by a planning inspector.
Mr Clark is using the "recovery" procedure which allows the Secretary of State to decide the outcome following the appeal rather a government planning inspector.
The inspector will still hear the appeal next year and will forward recommendations to the government.
The secretary of state said he took the decision because the appeals involved "proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/or legal difficulties".
Mr Clark will also rule on two appeals, at the same time as the main fracking appeals, against a refusal to allow Cuadrilla seismic monitoring in the county.
Judy Hobson, Environment Correspondent, BBC North West Tonight
This was the news some residents in Roseacre and Little Plumpton didn't want to hear. But it won't have come as a big surprise.
Cuadrilla's appeal against Lancashire County Council's decision to reject its plans for fracking will be heard in February.
The appeal will be heard by planning inspector Wendy McKay. But we now know she won't be the one making a decision. Instead, she'll write a report, make a recommendation and hand it to the government. The Secretary of State will have the final say.
Residents against fracking knew this might happen, but they hoped it wouldn't. The government says it wants to decide the future of fracking because it's an issue of "major importance". Anti fracking groups say they fear that means local opinion will count for nothing.
The government decided in September to include shale gas drilling in the categories of planning appeal decisions that can be decided directly by the minister.
In June Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla's fracking applications on two sites in Lancashire - Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton.
Donna Hume, senior energy campaigner from Friends of the Earth said: "People in Lancashire, and anywhere threatened by fracking, will be very worried that the government's determination to pursue fracking could come at the cost of ignoring local democracy, and the concerns of local people. "
Cuadrilla said it "noted" the decision and "looked forward" to presenting its case at the appeals next year.