Public to be ‘bribed’ into backing fracking

The government was today accused of trying to bribe the public into supporting fracking, after offering millions of pounds worth of cash payments to households set to be affected by the controversial method of extracting natural gas.

Local authorities will be allowed to keep 100% of business rates from fracking sites, while local people could be handed up to one per cent of revenues in an attempt to head off opposition.

"This is a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area," Greenpeace's Lawrence Carter said.

"Cameron is effectively telling councils to ignore the risks and threat of large-scale industrialisation in exchange for cold hard cash."

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth described it as "a new low in the government's attempts to curry fracking favour with local people".

Fracking, whereby rock is fractured with high pressure jets in order to extract shale gas, has been credited with slashing energy bills in the US.

However, it has so far met with furious resistance in the UK from campaigners who claim it pollutes local water supplies and can even cause earthquakes.

The strongly Conservative-supporting town of Balcombe in West Sussex was turned into a major protest site last year after a US firm began exploring for gas reserves in the area.

More than 100 Balcombe residents marched to join environmental campaigners after a survey found 85% of local people opposed fracking in the area.

The prime minister will today vow to push on with the expansion of fracking regardless, saying that the government will now go "all out for shale gas".

He added: "A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure.

"That's why we're going all out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country."

He will announce plans to double the amount local authorities can keep in business rates from fracking sites from 50% to 100%, with local people also being handed extra revenues.

Chancellor George Osborne has also promised to hand shale gas firms the 'most generous tax breaks in the world'.

Last month planning minister Nick Boles said in future new fracking sites could be allowed to go ahead without informing local people.

In a written statement, Boles said current rules meant "disproportionately large number of individuals and businesses" had to be informed that drilling was taking place underneath them.