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Durkan fracking ban decision branded 'illegal' by furious MP

By Linda Stewart

The decision by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to ban fracking will be overturned by the Executive, DUP MP Sammy Wilson has vowed.

Mr Wilson called the move "totally illegal" and accused Mr Durkan over rolling over to the green lobby, who described the bar as hugely welcome.

The ban was announced in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (SPPS), which condenses 20 planning policy statements into one and offers a blueprint for town centres, retail development, building in the countryside, shared space tourism, telecoms and housing.

It also sets out a ban on fracking, also known as, hydraulic fracturing, which would only be reversed in the future if the Department was satisfied that there was sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts of the process.

"Significantly, for the first time, a no to fracking is actually enshrined in policy unless there is sufficient and robust evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts," Mr Durkan said.

"I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach. The SPPS introduces a revised strategic direction for town centre and retailing policy. It advocates a 'town centres first' approach to the location of future retailing and town centre uses, which will support and sustain vibrant town centres across the north.

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"The SPPS will enable councils to be flexible in bringing forward planning policy tailored to local circumstances through their new local development plans."

Mr Durkan also told how during the consultation significant issues were raised that were beyond the scope of finalising the SPPS, particularly in relation to strategic policy for renewable energy and strategic policy development in the countryside.

"As such, I now intend to undertake a full review of these matters," he said. "This review work will incorporate engagement with key stakeholders."

But Mr Wilson branded the decision "total economic illiteracy" and promised that the "illegal" policy would be overturned by the Executive.

"For the minister to make such a policy statement without referring it to the Executive is totally illegal," he said.

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"It's controversial, cross-cutting and novel. I imagine that it will be stopped by the Executive."

The East Antrim MP added that fracking had the potential to create thousands of jobs in a resource-poor region.

"He has clearly rolled over to the aggressive green lobby," Mr Wilson said. "I believe that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want us exploiting all the resources that we have, whether it's the potential of our scenery through tourism, our fields through agriculture, our quarries with stone or indeed underneath the ground."

Ukip MLA David McNarry agreed with Mr Wilson that Mr Durkan had made a mistake.

Mr McNarry said: "Banning fracking here is the most irresponsible decision in a long time, particularly when there is evidence of how it could boost our economy. His decision is irreconcilable with other parts of the UK where fracking is going ahead."

But James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland's director, described the ban as hugely positive move towards building a clean and green Northern Ireland.

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"Whether it's in the Arctic or Northern Ireland, we need to shift from the fossil fuel industry that is recklessly fuelling climate change," Mr Orr said. "We also need to protect our water supply, farmland and air from dangerous pollution and industrialising the countryside. Instead, Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to move forward with planning for an energy transformation based on renewables."

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