Fracking companies could be given the freedom to drill under private land without consent in order to kickstart the controversial shale gas industry.

The Government is considering a change to trespass laws to allow companies to run shale gas pipes underground without landowners’ permission, in return for nominal compensation.

The changes are part of an Infrastructure Bill set to be included in the Queen’s Speech in June.

Three applications to test for shale are pending in Sussex with Celtique Energie applying to drill in Fernhurst, in the South Downs National Park.

Campaigners including Lord Cowdray, the tenth largest landowner in the country, have previously launched a legal bid with Greenpeace which argues drilling underground without consent is illegal.

Reacting to the announcement, Lord Cowdray said: “I find it a surprising decision to make when there is an election looming within a year and this decision |is going to affect millions of householders.”

Celtique has a second application pending to test drill at Wisborough Green, near Billingshurst.

Decisions on both applications have been delayed after the South Downs National Park Authority and West Sussex County Council requested further information from Celtique.

Nick Alderton, who lives yards away from the proposed site near Wisborough Green said: “Farmers and landowners in the Weald are very concerned about fracking under their land.

“Sussex is simply unsuitable for the hundreds of wells required to exploit this resource, it is too densely populated, water is scarce and the narrow country lanes are totally unsuitable for the heavy plant and chemicals required for these operations.”

Meanwhile Caudrilla, subject of the protests at Balcombe involving Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, has announced it could return to Sussex.

Vanessa Vine, of Frack Free Sussex and a Balcombe resident, added: “If our government gives these international corporations free reign to drill under our homes and our agricultural land they will be putting our seismic security and our health at serious risk.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: “Like any other industrial activity, oil and gas operations require access permission from landowners.

“But there is an existing legal route by which operators can apply for access where this can’t be negotiated.

“We’re currently considering whether this existing route is fit for purpose.

“Similar access issues apply to deep geothermal energy projects.”