Committee warned it would be breaking the law if it refused Preston New Road application, councillor reveals

There are questions tonight about the legal advice given verbally to Lancashire councillors who have been considering Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road.

One member of the county council committee which will decide the plan said tonight councillors were told they would be breaking the law if they refused it.

HayhurstPaul Hayhurst said council legal officers had put intense pressure on the development control committee to approve the scheme yesterday.

He said the advice that members were given verbally and in private may have dissuaded some of the committee from refusing the application.

When the advice from the council’s barrister was distributed in writing this morning, Cllr Hayhurst said it was not as strong as that given by council officers verbally the day before.

The vote to refuse, taken yesterday afternoon, was tied and was defeated only on the chair’s casting vote.

This followed a private session of the committee to discuss the wording of a motion to refuse the application. During that session, council officers said they had taken the advice of a Queen’s Counsel, Cllr Hayhurst said.

“We hadn’t even asked for counsel’s opinion. At that stage were planning to revamp the reasons for refusal”, he said.

“We were told we must vote for the application. If we didn’t we would be breaking the law and we would be deemed irresponsible members. If it went to appeal and we lost, costs would be awarded against the authority.”

“They said that we [the committee members] would have to put the case [if it went to appeal]. We were prepared to do this.”

“Even under that intense pressure it was still seven for and seven against and it was only the casting vote of the chairman that defeated the motion.”

“I cannot guarantee the vote would have been different but it seems to be me that it would have been.”

Cllr Hayhurst said members had asked for the advice to be put in writing.

When it was distributed to the committee and the public this morning, it was not the same as had been given verbally, he said.

He told this morning’s session of the committee, which was scheduled to discuss Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood application: “I am absolutely appalled by it. This is not in the sort of vein that we were advised yesterday.”

The written version from David Manley QC, now published on the council’s website, specifically says a refusal would not constitute breaking the law.

It says: “While a refusal which is not backed by substantial objective evidence cannot be described as unlawful, it nonetheless can readily be described as unreasonable in planning terms”.

Cllr Hayhurst said: “The counsel’s opinion was that we as councillors should support the officer’s view”.

“It said that if the planning officer’s view is that there isn’t a visual impact, then there isn’t a visual impact.

“But it is up to members to make that decision”.

“You can’t just say that because the council’s own specialist advice service has raised no objection there is no objection. That is why we have a democratic process of members determining aspects of development and planning applications. It is for us to decide that.”

Cllr Hayhurst asked for another vote to be taken on the motion to refuse this morning but the committee chair, Munsif Dad, would not allow it.

A Lancashire County Council spokesperson said the council was not responding to queries about the Preston Neew Road application at this stage. The committee discussion on the application resumes on Monday (28th June 2015) at 10am.

The author of this piece is not related to Cllr Hayhurst

Updated 26/6/15 to add the final paragraph

14 replies »

  1. If expert view are not respected then why seek them in the first place. Their view must be in line with the interpretation of the policy i.e the law. The council also has the responsibility to make the decision in accordance of the policy and law. The councillor are not technical or legal expert of these fields and thus they may or may not have right capacity to make the right interpretation of the law. That’s why we have council and advisors. The councillor over extend themselves by saying that it is their democracy to decide and not the officer. But the applicant also have a democracy right to a right decision and treated equally in accordance to the law and policy. That is why we have policy and law. It is irresponsible of a council position to make a decision in contrary to the policy and deny other people an opportunity they follow the policy and rules. Multiple agencies have no objection and so this is also the applicant democracy right to get a right decision. The councillor view seem to suggest that his understanding of his position is to defend his democracy right only and not the applicant or the system.

    • Multiple agencies have no objection because they are corrupt or have been bribed!! France have banned fracking as it goes against their environmental laws..why have we not got the same environmental laws?? We should be protecting our environment at all costs, there is no planet b 😦

    • Councillors are elected by the public, not by vested interest. They should always bear that in mind. From what I have seen, the officer’s advice has been thoroughly irresponsible, dismissing a certain expert witness’s testimony, just because he retired in 2001. Excuse me, but has the geology of Lancashire changed in that time? I doubt it.

      The rest of the country is watching this very closely. Fracking is an absolutely unnecessary, toxic evil. The councillors would be well advised to bear that in mind as well when they vote, unless they want to be carrying the cost of toxic, leaky wells for the next few decades…

      • Actually Smythe retired in 1998 and has done no research on fracking . All other expert geologists disagree with him. Thus they went with ACTIVE more expert geologists, rather than an OAP

  2. Who’s law is anyone breaking when trying to protect life? In my universe poisoning the land, air and water and hastening the demise of the planet are about as criminal and irresponsible as you can get. It is murder at the very least. Corrupt pseudo-laws made up by the criminals themselves can not be considered valid. In a sane world, when the law’s an ass it is obligatory to flout it.

  3. So your version of democracy Tommie is that an un-elected individual with no accountability to the people of Lancashire gets to decide on something which affects the people of Lancashire.

    Sounds rather autocratic to me.

  4. Surely they can now say that new evidence has come to light – the publication of the underacted report in July alone is reason in itself to hang fire. How can this body possible vote on something so important when they are not in charge of the full facts. Surely they should all be demanding to see the full report first.

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