Members of the Lancashire County Council’s development control committee voted this morning to postpone their consideration of applications to drill and frack up to eight wells at sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in the Fylde.
Councillor Munsif Dad, chairing the meeting, said that members had received revised proposals from Cuadrilla late on Friday 23rd January for the two sites. He said that Cuadrilla believed that their applications should not be considered at this meeting, as there would need to be a period of at least 21 days consultation on their new proposals.
Jill Anderson of the Council’s legal team recommended that councillors consider the issue in private as it concerned information “in respect of which a claim of legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings”. The public meeting was then adjourned for 95 minutes.
After the adjournment, the meeting heard a statement by Ian Young, the County secretary and chief legal adviser to the council. He said the statement was effectively a summary of the advice given to committee members during their closed private session.
As committee members are aware, during the course of the last few days, the applicant has submitted additional information in relation to both applications. In relation to Preston New Road, new proposals in relation to noise mitigation have been received. In relation to Roseacre, proposals in relation to both noise mitigation and traffic measures have been received. That information of course relates directly to the grounds for refusal recommended by officers.
The applicant has in each case submitted that this information is of a substantive nature and should therefore be the subject of public consultation as required by regulation 22 of the Town and Country Planning Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011. In those circumstances the applicant has requested that both applications be deferred so the additional information can be assessed by the council and therefore considered by the committee.
The applicant’s request for deferral and their submissions in support of the request have been considered carefully by officers, in particular the legal basis for the request. Having done so, and with the benefit of advice from leading council, my unequivocal advice to the committee is that the proposals now submitted by the applicant in respect of both noise and traffic must be regarded as substantive information. It therefore follows that the proposals must be advertised and consulted on by the council.
In these circumstances my advice to the committee is that the determination of both applications must be deferred. Not to do so would in my view mean that the council would be acting unlawfully. If the committee were not to accept my advice, then in my view the applicant would have clear grounds to challenge a refusal to defer and a legal challenge would inevitably be successful, leading to both further delay and cost consequences for the council.
If my advice is accepted and the decision is deferred, the committee should also be aware that it is likely to be a minimum of eight weeks before the committee would be able to reconvene to consider the application.
Cllr Marcus Johnstone (LAB), moving the motion to defer, regretted that people at the meeting today would not be able to make representations but stressed that they would be able to do so when the committee reconvened. Cllr Johnstone also regretted the continuing uncertainty that communities would now be subjected to.
Cllr Paul Hayhurst (Independent) said many councillors were very unhappy about having to do this and concerned at the time, effort and expense that people had gone to in order to put their case to the council. He asked that the various groups should be able to give their full half hour presentations again before the applications were reconsidered.
“Many people’s health is suffering because of the work they’ve had to put in to this and the worry they’ve had to go to is not helping the situation at all.”
Cllr Kevin Ellard (LAB) expressed frustration that the committee had not been able to debate the applications but instead had to follow a recommendation by a council officer.
Cllr Terry Aldridge (LAB) said he would vote against deferral, as Cuadrilla could have brought forward their new proposals at an earlier stage in the process.
Cllr Steven Holgate (LAB) declared he was “downright angry”.
I feel that we as the Planning Committee are being undermined to an extent and I feel that there are too many people dipping their fingers into responsibilities that are not theirs. This goes right to the top, unfortunately.
Cllr Holgate said he would abstain.
None of the six Conservative members of the Committee commented during the public meeting.
Councillors voted for deferment of both applications with a date for the new hearings to be decided later.