Local people have persuaded the Planning Inspectorate to hold a bespoke inquiry into whether Dart Energy should be allowed to drill an exploratory coal bed methane well near the Shropshire village of Dudleston.
Dart appealed in January after Shropshire Council failed to make a decision on its planning application by the target date. The company asked for an appeal by written representation. This meant Dart would have had the final word after local comments had been submitted in writing only.
But local campaigners said the appeal should have been dealt with by a public inquiry and pointed to planning guidance. This says there should be a formal hearing for appeals on contentious applications where there is significant public interest.
About 500 people, including most of the population around the proposed site, had objected to the Dudleston application. It was reported by local and national media. After Dart submitted its appeal, a packed room at Shropshire Council saw the Conservative-led planning committee vote that it was minded to oppose the application. Details
This week the Planning Inspectorate upgraded the appeal to a bespoke inquiry. This means there will be a formal hearing lasting at least three days. Both sides will have the opportunity to cross-examine the evidence.
The council’s planning officer had recommended the application be approved. But opponents of the application said it could threaten a high-risk slurry lagoon nearby. They also argued that private drinking water supplies could be at risk, 10m of species-rich hedgerow would have to be removed and measures in the plans to reduce noise at nearby homes were inadequate.
In a message to supporters, the campaign group, Frack Free Dudleston, said last night: “It is thanks to your active participation in the planning process that the appeal regarding the Dudleston CBM drill has now been upgraded to a Bespoke Inquiry.”
“The other good news is that the seven months since we submitted evidence to the initial planning application has allowed us to gather lots more information so our case is even more robust. The hearing date is likely to be some months away and we will continue the research so that we have the best possible chance of winning.”
Chris Hesketh, who spoke against the application at the planning meeting, said: “It is refreshing to see that the Inspectorate has listened to the concerns of the local people. The decision rested on the level of local and media interest, including comments against the appeal itself.”
“With the applicant’s preferred choice of written representations, the applicant gets the final word after local comments have been submitted. Now there will be a thorough examination of the evidence in a face-to-face context.”
“We are grateful to Friends of the Earth and two of our prospective parliamentary candidates (Liberal and Green) for their support in securing this upgrade.”
Dudleston appeal reference: APP/L3245/W/15/3002435