West Country councils could be allowed to keep millions more in business rates revenue if they give the nod to fracking.
David Cameron said today that English local authorities agreeing to shale gas schemes would receive 100 per cent of the resulting business rates – rather than the usual 50 per cent.
The move is part of an “all out” drive to exploit the controversial technique, which the Government believes is worth billions of pounds to the economy, as well as supporting 74,000 jobs, and drastically cutting rising energy bills. But critics of the proposals said Mr Cameron’s offer was tantamount to “bribery”.
Sites near Keynsham and on the Mendips have been mooted for drilling, and Total is due to confirm this morning that it is investing in fracking exploration in the UK, by taking a share in a licence in the Midlands operated by a US firm.
Whitehall officials said the business rates commitment would mean councils hanging on to up to £1.7 million extra a year from each fracking site.
They stressed that the mining industry had already pledged to give local communities £100,000 for each test drilling – and a further 1 per cent of the revenues if shale gas is discovered.
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, business minister Michael Fallon said: “In the Seventies, North Sea oil helped salvage our economy from crippling stagnation. We have a similar chance to create tens of thousands of jobs and energy security.”
But environmentalists accused ministers of trying to “bribe” local authorities. Lawrence Carter of Greenpeace said: “This is a naked attempt by the Government to bribe hard pressed councils into accepting fracking. Cameron is effectively telling councils to ignore the risks and threat of large-scale industrialisation in exchange for cold hard cash.
“But the proposal reveals just how worried the Government is about planning applications being turned down. Having had their claims that fracking will bring down energy bills and create jobs thoroughly discredited, the Government is now resorting to straight up bribery to sell the deeply unpopular policy.”