30th April 2014
Yesterday, the planning committee of West Sussex County Council granted planning permission to Cuadrilla to test the viability of its oil exploration well at Balcombe. This is despite nearly 900 objections to the public consultation, a 5,000-name petition against the application and presentations in opposition from three villagers, Balcombe Parish Council and the local county councillor.
The council spent nearly three hours considering the application . Much the time was spent on issues that it could not consider.
This post looks at some of those issues and includes the response from the officers advising the councillors at the meeting.
1 Lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment
Jane Moseley, senior planner “There is no justification in terms of the EIA regulations or in terms of government guidance for asking for an EIA. … The lack of an EIA does not mean that environmental issues or environmental impacts have not been considered and dealt with as appropriate.”
2 Concerns that the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive were deficient in their performance at Balcombe
Jane Moseley, senior planner “We have to assume they are doing their jobs just as they assume that we are doing ours. The National Planning Policy Framework and the accompanying guidance makes it clear what our role is and what is the role of other regulators.”
3 Request for deferment of the decision because of lack of and inadequate information from the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive
Chris Wick, Environment Agency “There is nothing to be gained by an additional delay. I don’t believe there is any additional information we need to obtain “
Jane Moseley, senior planner “The Health and Safety Executive have confirmed that they are satisfied that everything is in order at this site. So I don’t know what further we could gain from further contact with them.”
4 The impact of the flare on air quality
Jane Moseley, senior planner Under Minerals Planning Policy Guidance “it is not for us to consider the air quality impact of the flare”
Chris Wick, Environment Agency “Our view is that for this particular application it is not necessary to go as far as setting specific emission limits. We believe that the flare operating as described and proposed to be permitted will not have a significant impact on human health or cause the breach of any relevant air quality objectives.”
5 Concerns about the integrity of Balcombe-1 well casing
Jane Moseley, senior planner “That is all for the Health and Safety Executive to consider and I am satisfied that they are doing their job”. She also said: “That is an issue that was considered in detail by the Health and Safety Executive in relation to the well drilled last summer and by the applicant themselves.”
6 Lack of detail on aspects of conditions to be decided later
Jane Moseley, senior planner “We have the details sufficient to assess the impact of the application. That is the requirement and I consider that we have sufficient information at this stage to make that decision.”
7 Cuadrilla’s past performance on complying with previous planning applications
Jane Moseley, senior planner “In planning terms, the permission goes with the land, rather than with the applicant and as with any application we have to assume that they will comply with the conditions attached to the permission if granted.”
8 A proposal that a legal agreement which might help enforce breaches of planning conditions
Becky Moutrey, legal services “The conditions are the appropriate mechanism for setting down what is required to ensure that the permission operates effectively”. She added that a legal agreement to deal with breaches of conditions “would be unreasonable. There is a statutory enforcement mechanism regime for the LPA to rely on if instances like that arose. It wouldn’t achieve anything by requiring a legal agreement to be signed.”
9 Lack of public engagement with the local community by Cuadrilla
Mike Elkington, strategic planning manager “That is not material to your dissemination [sic] of the application. There is no requirement on Cuadrilla to engage with the local community. It is entirely up to them. It is encouraged by the government but it is not a requirement. If they have not done it, that should have no bearing on your determination of the application.
10 The majority of public opinion against the application in the consultation
Jane Moseley, senior planner “It is our duty to consider the issues that were raised but not the weight of public opinion.”
11 Comments and concerns from the public gallery
Heidi Brunsdon, committee chair “Would you please not address the council committee …Would you please not take part in this debate.”
12 The likely cost of the application to West Sussex County Council for policing protests
Becky Moutrey, legal services “We are taking a decision in accordance with the planning regime. This is a planning process and we must only consider what is material to this planning application. The costs associated with the remainder of the county council and the expenses associated with that is not relevant to the determination of this application.”
Cllr Mullins, who originally raised the issue, made the point again. The committee chair, Heidi Brundson, replied: “Mrs Mullins you have been advised by the legal team that we aren’t here to discuss the costs or otherwise of the council so would you please keep our questions to purely planning matters.”
13 Likelihood of future protests at the site if the application were approved
This issue was raised but not addressed
14 Concerns about the financial situation of Cuadrilla (Balcombe) Ltd and the proposal for a bond to cover any problems with clearing up after accidents
Jane Moseley, senior planner “The Minerals Planning Practice Guidance sets out when a financial guarantee is justified, which is for very long term projects (this is not long term) where a novel approach is to be used (which doesn’t apply in this case) and where there is reliable evidence of likelihood of either financial or technical failure but which isn’t considered to apply in this particularly situation. Particularly because we have the reassurance from the Department of Energy and Climate Change that those sorts of issues are dealt with directly by them granting the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence.”
Katie Kam, legal services “In projects such as this it should not be necessary to seek a bond. However, were Cuadrilla to run into financial problems, the local planning authority has powers of entry to go in and try to make the site safe and then would seek to recoup the costs through the courts in the usual manner. If there were a health and safety issue then the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency have their own powers to go in and try to put right if there is an immediate danger…There are powers available to the local planning authority and to other regimes.”
15 Concerns about what would happen if Cuadrilla did not restore the site
Jane Moseley, senior planner “If the applicant wishes to come in with a further application, if they find reserves down there and wishes to apply for production then this condition would still apply. They would still be required to restore the site. But if they don’t wish to it would be a matter for our enforcement teams to decide whether it is expedient to take enforcement action to make them do it. Or whether we consider it to be expedient to wait until the planning application outcome was known.”
16 Previous County council motions on deciding planning applications
Louisa Delpy, a Balcombe villager, raised the following motion which was agreed at the meeting of the full council on 18th October 2013:
“The County Council will consider granting planning permission for exploration, appraisal and/or production only after considering the following matters:
- Firstly Arrangements to monitor and enforce conditions attached to planning permissions including those relating to the protection of the local environment are adequate. They are clearly not adequate
- Secondly that local communities will be fully consulted prior to exploration, appraisal, and production and that the development has minimised, mitigated or compensated damage to the local environment. We have not been consulted by Cuadrilla regarding this application
- Thirdly that community benefits for exploration, appraisal or production can be secured through central or voluntary arrangements with the developer. We are unaware of any benefit. In the terms of this motion alone councillors must vote to oppose this application.”
The committee did not address this issue.
17 Do the officers have a contingency plan for dealing with vandalism leading to a pollution incident?
Jane Moseley, senior planner “A contingency plan “would primarily be up to the operator but it would also be up to the other regulators, Health and Safety Executive would be the most likely body that would get involved but also the Environment Agency and West Sussex.”
Cllr Sue Mullins “Clearly West Sussex has no contingency plan in the event of some kind of disaster happening on site.”
Mike Elkington “In terms of any site, the county council works with partners to develop emergency procedures so there are plans in place with the police and if there was an emergency of that sort then those measures would be put into place….It is a matter outside of this planning permission I would suggest.”