New Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed plans to offer out cash payments to households near sites where fracking takes place, up to a value of £10 million per community effected.
May spoke before the publication of a government consultation on the Shale Wealth Fund, a fund set up back in 2014 with the intention of 10% of taxpayer funded proceeds towards fracking going towards helping local communities affected by the construction of fracking wells.
Previously, the money was to go to local authorities, but May revealed her intention to change this, instead giving the money directly to affected private individuals.
She said: “The government I lead will be driven by the interests of the many – ordinary families for whom life is harder than many people in politics realise. As I said on my first night as prime minister: when we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful but of you.
“This announcement is an example of putting those principles into action. It’s about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken – not just councils – and putting them back in control over their lives. We’ll be looking at applying this approach to other government programmes in the future too, as we press on with the work of building a country that works for everyone.”
The consultation document explains: “We are now setting out to ensure that the right framework is in place for households, communities and regions that host shale gas to benefit directly from a share of the revenues and tax that come from shale production.”
As far as the plans are understood so far, pay outs would be capped at £10,000 per household and would not be due until full fracking is underway at the site in question – this is typically as long as five years after the exploratory stage begins.
While May has presented the idea as a way of allowing members of affected communities to directly benefit from (and be compensated for) fracking activity, her critics have described the proposed payments as little more than bribes.
Shadow energy secretary, Barry Gardiner, asked: “Does Theres May really hold the British public in such high esteem that she thinks they can be bribed into fracking and a fossil fuel future?”
Gardiner criticised the idea of payments to those near fracking sites when there was no such equivalent scheme for those living near wind farms.
“The asymmetry is amazing” he said. “Wind farms are subject to a localism veto but for shale gas, government can override.”
Greenpeace scientist Doug Parr also criticised what he saw as a cynical approach to trying to increase public support for fracking.
He said: “The government has tried to sweeten the fracking pill with cash payments before, and it didn’t work. Over the last two years, public opposition has soared and support for shale has tanked. People’s concerns about climate change and their local environment cannot be silenced with a wad of cash.”