A decision on Dart Energy’s planning application to explore for coal bed methane at Dudleston Heath has been taken out of local hands because Shropshire Council delayed its decision for too long. A planning inspector will now decide on the plans, possibly after May’s general election.
Dart applied for an exploratory borehole at Brooklands Farm near Ellesmere in June last year. In October, Shropshire Council’s North Planning Committee agreed unanimously to oppose the application, against their officers’ advice. Councillors believed the application contradicted local planning policy and would lead to disturbance because of noise, light and vibration from the site. They were also concerned about potential pollution, as well as loss of public amenity, poor economic return and risks to groundwater.
The decision on the application was, however, deferred because planning officers were concerned about the legal impllcations of refusal.
A planning officer wrote to Dart in December, asking for more information to address the councillors’ concerns. A few days later, on 12th December, the 13-week determination deadline for the application passed.
Dart’s UK General Manager, Douglas Bain, replied to Shropshire Council on 8th January, saying the company had already provided enough information and it would not be appropriate to supply more. He added: “I believe that all environmental matters can be satisfactorily addressed through the use of planning conditions, which is in line with the recommendations made in the report you submitted to the Planning Committee”.
The committee did not consider the application when it met again on 20th January. A spokesman for IGas, Dart’s parent company, said there was no schedule towards a decision, despite the recommendation for approval and no objections from statutory consultees.
Dart appealed to the planning inspector on the grounds of non-determination by the council. The planning inspectorate is now considering the timetable for the appeal.
Mr Bain said: “It is in the best interests of all parties to have clarity on the application. All information to enable a decision has been submitted to the council and our discussions remain very constructive. The application clearly establishes this temporary operation would be environmentally and economically acceptable, which was confirmed by the planning committee report, and I very much hope that the appeal will be upheld.”
Mr Bain added: “I empathise with any community wanting to know what’s going on in the area. We have taken it to appeal, we want to get clarity for everybody. The longer it goes on the more unsettling it is for everybody. We are very confident. The planning officer said it was a suitable site for development”.
But an opponent of the proposals, who is living at the “Castle Dudleston” camp outside the proposed site, told the Shropshire Star campaigners were on the verge of a momentous victory. He said he expected the decision would not be made until after the general election and that it would go their way.
“We believe that Dart Energy cannot afford to keep security at the site or is just nowhere ready for operations to begin. The industry is on its knees before it ever began”.
Chris Hesketh, of Frack Free Dudleston, was also optimistic about the appeal. “We will be absolutely resolute and the community will stay together and fight.”
*In October last year, the Scottish Government took over the decision on Dart Energy’s applications to drill for coal bed methane at 14 sites in Airth and the Forth Valley. However, a decision on that application is likely to be delayed because it is covered by the moratorium on unconventional gas operations, announced by the Scottish Government last week.