5th May 2014
The decision to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla to test its well at Balcombe should have been deferred, according to one of the authors of guidelines to West Sussex County Council on oil and gas development.
But Morwen Millson, a Lib Dem county councillor, believes the Balcombe application “largely complied” with the council motion she seconded on hydrocarbon planning applications.
Cllr Millson drew up the motion with fellow Lib Dem Cllr James Walsh because she said she recognised the concerns of local residents about Cuadrilla’s application and those proposed by other companies.
The motion, agreed last October, said West Sussex County Council would consider granting planning permission for oil and gas developments only after considering a number of issues. These included: arrangements to enforce planning conditions, full consultation of local people and community benefits secured from the developer.
Last Tuesday (April 29th), the council’s planning committee considered Cuadrilla’s application to test the flow of its exploratory oil well at Balcombe and to flare off gas. The local county councillor, Bill Acraman, a Balcombe Parish Councillor and three villagers spoke at the committee meeting against the application. They said more information was needed and the committee was relying too heavily on reassurances from the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. They urged the committee to defer its decision.
But officers told the meeting there would be no benefit from delaying the decision and members voted by 12-1 to approve the application.
Cllr Millson, who is not a member of the planning committee, said there were gaps in the planning conditions on Cuadrilla. She said she was disappointed that the lorry route in and out of the site at Lower Stumble had not been finalised before permission was approved. She was also disappointed that planning officers had not demanded an Environmental Impact Assessment. EIAs, she said, should be required for almost all applications.
“For these reasons, I think the Planning Committee should have deferred the decision for further work, as requested by the local member”, she said.
Cllr Millson’s motion was raised with the committee by Louisa Delpy, one of the Balcombe villagers who spoke at the meeting. She said the arrangements to enforce conditions were not adequate, the community had not been consulted by Cuadrilla and there were no community benefits.
A Freedom of Information request by InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com confirmed that Cuadrilla did not carry out community consultation or engagement on this planning application.
However, West Sussex County Council did carry out its own public consultation. The committee heard that nearly 900 people had objected to the application. There were also objections from three parish councils, as well as a petition signed by 5,000 people.
Cllr Milson said she understood that residents were “not satisfied with the level of consultation”. But she said “given the number of responses, consultation clearly had been undertaken.”
Asked whether Tuesday’s decision complied with the motion, Cllr Millson said: “The conditions imposed on the applicant largely comply with the requirements of the motion that I seconded.”
Click on link to read Cllr Millson in full comments-by-cllr-morwen-millson.pdf