A TOTAL of 856 people have signed a Taunton Friends of the Earth petition against fracking.

The group's Michael McGuffie says the petition, which is being handed to Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, shows the scale of opposition to government proposals to "fast track fracking".

The government proposes classifying exploratory shale drilling as 'permitted development', meaning companies could start drilling across large parts of England without having to apply for planning permission.

The Somerset coast has been included in areas selected for fracking, meaning the new Somerset West and Taunton Council, being launched in April, will have direct responsibility for planning permission.

Mr McGuffie said: "We're facing a climate emergency. Instead of making it easier for fracking companies to drill in search of fossil fuels, we need to invest in renewable energy. This would help the climate, promote energy security and create more jobs.

"We’ve seen a groundswell of local opposition to the government’s reckless plans to fast-track fracking.

"If the government gets its way, fracking companies could drill at will – without even needing to apply to the council for planning permission.

"This would trample over our local democracy and threatens to industrialise the English countryside."