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.
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