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Fracking under national parks backed by MPs

21MPs have voted to allow fracking for shale gas 1,200m below national parks and other protected sites.

The new regulations – which allow drilling from outside the protected areas – were approved by 298 to 261.

Opposition parties and campaigners criticised the lack of a Commons debate – and accused ministers of a U-turn as they previously pledged an outright ban on fracking in national parks.

The government said its plans would protect “our most precious landscapes”.

It said the UK had “one of the best track records in the world for protecting our environment while developing our industries”.

MPs overwhelmingly rejected a bid to suspend drilling for shale gas in a Commons vote in January, during which ministers also pledged an “outright ban” on fracking in national parks.

Labour has said the government’s plans, contained in a draft regulation, represent a U-turn on this commitment, and called for stronger safeguards.

The proposals, first set out in July, would only allow fracking 1,200m below national parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads and World Heritage Sites.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which are designated to protect wildlife or geology, are not mentioned.

MPs opposed the passing of the draft regulation when it was read out in the Commons on Tuesday evening. Because this happened after the conclusion of the day’s main business, parliamentary rules required the vote to be deferred – until Wednesday.

Under this process of so-called deferred divisions, MP voted on the proposal by filling in ballot papers with the result announced later by Deputy Speaker Natascha Engel.

Shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy accused ministers of using a “parliamentary backdoor” to try to approve the “weak regulations” without debate.

She said: “Fracking should not go ahead in Britain until stronger safeguards are in place to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like national parks.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the government had shown a “complete lack of regard for protecting some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK and its wildlife”, while Greenpeace criticised the use of what it called an “arcane parliamentary process”.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: “The UK has one of the best track records in the world for protecting our environment while developing our industries – these regulations will get this vital industry moving while protecting our environment and people.

“Yesterday’s Task Force for Shale Gas report confirmed exactly what we have been saying for some time – that with the right standards in place fracking can take place safely.”