Lancashire councillors agreed this afternoon to delay a decision on Cuadrilla’s proposals to frack at Preston New Road in the Fylde.
The county council’s development control committee will consider the application again on Monday morning (29th June 2015) after taking legal advice on planning policy.
The members wanted to know whether they could use a policy in the Lancashire minerals and waste plan as a reason to refuse the application. The policy – CS5 – deals with the sustainable production of minerals. The advice councillors receive will be shared with members of the public tomorrow morning.
Before the decision to defer, a vote to refuse the application, against the advice of officers, was defeated on the chair’s casting vote. Our report
Members also asked councillor officers about noise, pollution and traffic that could be generated by the proposal and how these would be monitored.
Here’s a selection of the issues raised during their debate.
“We cannot afford to gamble with the environment”
The committee’s deputy chair, Kevin Ellard, proposed the motion to reject the application on the grounds that it breached the following planning policies:
- Paragraph 9 of the National Planning Policy Framework (conserving/enhancing natural environment)
- Paragraph 17 of the NPPF (fails to protect intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside),
- Policy DM2 of the Lancashire minerals and waste local plan (fails to make a positive contribution to the landscape of the area and has an adverse visual impact on the landscape);
- Policy SP2 and DMN11 of the Fylde Local Plan (is not permitted development in the countryside)
- Guidance from the Minister for housing, issued in March 2015 (the visual impact of development on the countryside can be an important material consideration)
Cllr Ellard said he was not in favour or against the principle of fracking. But he said:
“What concerns me is that the process, if it is ever to take place, must be operated at all stages to world class standards of safety and in such a way that there is an absolute guarantee of there being no harm to our environment whether that be on the surface, under the surface or in the atmosphere. I am aware that this is a very big ask. But we owe it ourselves and to future generations to get it right now. We cannot afford to gamble with the environment.”
Cllr Ellard said the “fractured” structure of regulation meant that no single regulator was responsible for oversight and control of all fracking operations.
“Reasons to refuse must be sustainable”
In response to Cllr Ellard’s motion, Jill Anderson, from the council’s legal department, told councillors: You must be satisfied that you have reasonable grounds for refusal if you are not to support the recommendation of the officer. They must stand up to scrutiny of a planning inspector, should the applicant decide to appeal. I can remind you that there is a risk of costs, should the reasons for refusal are not robust and sustainable.”
Planning officer, Stuart Perigo, said: “You do not have to take our advice but you must be satisfied that if you take a different view that those views are sustainable. There are residents living 250m from the site and we recognise the personal circumstances of some of them but I do not believe these proposals would have an impact on them in the way that they fear.
Cllr Paul Hayhurst, who represents part of the Fylde, said he was concerned for residents who lived 250m away from the site who had “actually moved there to get away from urbanisations and chemicals”.
He said last month’s meeting of the development control committee had refused an application for monitoring and testing at Cuadrilla’s site at Singleton because it was contrary to policy CS5 of the Lancashire Minerals and Waste Core strategy and DM2 of the Lancashire minerals and waste local plan.
The Lungs of Lancashire
He described the Fylde as the “lungs of Lancashire”. People who lived in urban areas needed green fields in which to cycle, run and walk.
Cllr David Howarth said: “I believe it [the proposal to frack] will have an impact on the people who live near this development. My major concern is for the people who are going to have to live with this.”
Cllr Marcus Johnstone said this was one of the biggest applications ever to come before the committee. It must be decide in accordance with planning law, he said. If the committee rejected the application, there would almost certainly be an appeal which could result in costs against the council. Using unsustainable reasons to refuse the application would be an irresponsible use of other people’s money, he said.
Public health: “You will have to work with local communities to address their concerns”
Cllr Hayhurst asked how many of the 61 recommendations in report on fracking by the council’s Director of Public Health had been implemented. Planning officer, Andrew Mulloney, said 16 recommendations that were part of the planning processed had been addressed. The Director of Public health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, had recommended monitoring of health outcomes of the local population before applications were approved. He told the committee: “As far as I am aware there is no other body that is planning to do monitoring of health outcomes. This rules out relying on other bodies.” Dr Karunanithi said: “You wil have to work with local communities to address their concerns”.
Cllr Chris Henig asked officers about whether the site would generate what she described as “non-benign” noise that could not be measured by decibels. Mr Mulloney, said the council was confident there would not be tonal noise. Peter Simpson, of the council’s noise consultant, said noise from the site would be reduced to reasonable levels.
Lorries and pensions crossing their route
Cllr Anne Cheetham said she had sympathy with elderly people who might struggle to cross the road used by lorry travelling to and from the site. Mr Perigo said additional traffic generated by the development would be less than 1% of that already on the road. “We do not feel that increase would be different from traffic in the area already”. He said there was no plan to require Cuadrilla to improve pedestrian access.
Cllr Bernard Dawson asked what was increase in traffic. Mr Perigo said it amounted to less than 1%. The lorry route was part of the strategic highway network, which could accommodate the increase, he said. “I do not think there is any highways issue for this application”.
Flowback fluid: will it leak?
Cllr Niki Penney asked about the likelihood of flowback fluid contaminating water supplies. Steve Molyneux, of the Environment Agency (EA), said “We would object to any activity that we think would contaminate drinking water. We believe that there is no plausible risk to ground and drinking water resources from Preston New Road.” He said groundwater would be monitored during the operation and afterwards.
Monitoring: how much?
Cllr Penney also asked about how much monitoring would be carried out. Mr Molyneux said this would be weekly during site operations and monthly afterwards. He said environmental permits ran indefinitely, until the EA was satisfied that there was no risk.
How temporary is temporary?
The application is for six years and described as temporary. Cllr Henig asked whether there was a planning definition of temporary. Mr Perigo said: “Everything is temporary. In terms of minerals they [applications] can be seen as temporary but could extend over 60 years for a large quarry.”
Comparisons with Becconsall
Cllr Malcolm Barron asked how the Preston New Road site compared with Cuadrilla’s Becconsall site. Mr Perigo said “Becconsall is a very different site and it is not before us….It would be very unfair to make an analogue between the two sites.”
What happens if there’s an accident?
Cllr Keith Sedgewick asked about what precautions would be taken to deal with accidents. Mr Perigo said vehicles going to and from Preston New Road would carry no more hazardous materials than other vehicles on the roads of the Fylde, Lancashire or the UK. “It is not an issue that we need to trouble ourselves with as a planning authority”, he said. A condition of permission would include a traffic management plan.
How will vibrations affect sceptic tanks?
Cllr Cheetham asked how the EA and United Utilities proposed to work together and whether sceptic tanks at properties near the proposed site were at risk from its operation. Mr Perigo said: “There are no sceptic tanks on the footprint [of the site], access or proposed connections to the national grid and United Utilities water supply. … The proposed level of vibrations would not affect tanks “. He added that waste fluids would be taken off site by tanker and water would be brought to the site by mains supply.
Comparison with coal
Cllr Barry Yates asked how water and air pollution from a fracking site compared with a coal mine. Mr Perigo said it would be very unfair to make a comparison with coal.
Noise versus visual impact
Cllr Henig asked whether proposals by Cuadrilla to reduce noise from the site by installing screens around the site and equipment had increased the visual impact. Mr Perigo said the council’s landscape architect said the visual impact of the screens was regarded as acceptable because it was temporary. Mr Perigo added that there were large agricultural buildings which had a permanent visual impact on the landscape. The noise screens would be in place for only two years, not four, as had been stated during pre-meetings last week, he said “The impact is such that we do not think it is unacceptable”.
Cllr Michael Green asked if further action could be taken to reduce the visual impact. Mr Perigo said there would be only transitory views from the A583. “I am more concerned about the views from residential properties.” But it was a temporary situation and no other mitigation could be taken over such a short term, he said.
Will it smell?
Cllr Cheetham asked about smells from the flare. Mr Perigo said flaring was limited to 90 days and would be monitored for volatile organic compounds. A condition would require an odour management plan.
Who clears up?
Cllr Terry Aldridge asked who was responsible for clearing up any problems. Tony Almond, of the Health and Safety Executive, said the borehole regulations were designed to prevent releases from the well.