Council planning officer, Stuart Perigo, said today there had been 18,106 objections to Cuadrilla’s application to frack at a site in the Fylde area of Lancashire. There had been 217 comments in support of the plans.
Mr Perigo was speaking at the start of a two-day meeting of Lancashire County Council’s development control committee to decide whether the company should be given permission to drill, frack and test up to four wells at Preston New Road.
On Thursday, the committee will start deciding a similar application for Roseacre Wood.
The meeting heard that two petitions, with a total of nearly 92,000 signatures had also been presented to the council.
Mr Perigo said: “There is local opposition and there is considerable fear of the effects of fracking and its impacts on the locality”. But he said: “The number of representations against must be kept in context.”
They represented a small proportion of the Lancashire population and a negligible proportion of the UK population, he said.
“It [opposition to a scheme] is not a material reason for refusing the planning applications. It is the points made that are more important.”
He added that it had been hard to judge accurately the level of opposition expressed in the petitions because it wasn’t clear whether people had signed more than once or where they came from.
The planner said it was not reasonable to refuse the application on the grounds of noise, traffic, visual impact or breach of planning guidance. And he warned against making a judgement about how this application might contributed to the development of a shale gas industry.
“This application must be considered on its merits”, Mr Perigo said. “We cannot determine on what could be future developments but on what is before you.”
He said the application complied with planning guidance and the development plan, apart from two policies in the Fylde Local Plan. One of these policies opposed industrial development in the countryside, he said, and did not take into account minerals development. Little weight should be given to it and greater weight should be given to the Lancashire minerals plan, he added.
Councillors are expected to decide on the application tomorrow (Wednesday June 23rd)
Jill Anderson, of the council’s legal team, said there had been two requests to defer decision on the application because the Information Commissioner had ordered the government to release a full version of Defra’s redacted report on impacts of shale gas on the rural economy.
The Fylde county councillor, Paul Hayhurst, argued that the decision should be deferred until the full knowledge was available.
The meeting voted by 12 to three to continue hearing the application.