Groups publish rival legal opinions on Preston New Road fracking plans

A second barrister has confirmed that Lancashire councillors could refuse Cuadrilla’s plans to frack up to four wells at Preston New Road – and defend the decision if it went to appeal.

But the organisation representing the onshore oil and gas industry has said its barrister has backed legal advice given to Lancashire County Council last week. This said there were no grounds to refuse the application and, if it went to appeal, there was a high risk that costs would be awarded against the council.

Yesterday, the Preston New Road Action Group published the opinion of its barrister, Dr Ashley Bowes, who said there was evidence that the application could result in harm to the landscape. Dr Bowes also said the scheme could be refused on noise grounds. Our report

In a separate development, campaigners in East Yorkshire sent a cease and desist letter to Lancashire County Councillors (see bottom of post).

Friends of the Earth’s QC: refusal would be reasonable and capable of defence

This afternoon, Friends of the Earth released the opinion of its barrister, Richard Harwood QC, who supported the views of Dr Bowes. Preston New Road advice

Mr Harwood said refusing the application “would be a reasonable one to take and capable of being defended on appeal. Similarly it would not be ‘irresponsible conduct’ for the committee to decide to refuse the application.”

He also said there were “substantial matters in the [council] officer advice which point against the scheme and there are matters on which members may disagree with the advice”.

He said these issued included:

  • The proposal did not accord with policies SP2 and EP11 of the Fylde Borough Local Plan
  • Even with a reduced rig height of 35m, the proposal would have a moderate (and implicitly adverse) landscape and visual impact which would be significant in planning terms
  • Even without tonal or impulsive noises, there would be an increase in noise
  • Predicted sky-glow was said to marginally exceed permitted standards.

Mr Harwood said the objection of the district planning authority and experts would need to be considered. Councillors should also decide whether the harm had been reduced to acceptable levels. “It would be reasonable for members to conclude that the harm identified in the report would not be at acceptable levels.”

If councillors disagreed with officers and said the harm would not be acceptable, then the plans would be a breach of policy DM2 of the Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan, Mr Harwood said. This would suggest that the proposal was not sustainable and in breach of national policy, he added.

UKOOG barrister: refusal would be unreasonable

UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the organisation representing the industry, said today its QC, Nathalie Lieven, had commented on advice from the council’s barrister, David Manley, and Dr Bowes.

In a press release, Ms Lieven is quoted as saying: “Where Members depart from the recommendation of officers they must do so reasonably and on the basis of robust evidence.”

She continued: “Ashley Bowes does not provide reasons why a refusal and departure from the officer’s recommendation would be reasonable. While he asserts that refusal could occur on landscape and/or noise grounds, he does not refer to evidence to justify this position.

“Noise is a highly technical issue where there is little scope for judgment. It is not open to the Council to say it does not accept the evidence of Arup or Jacobs in respect of noise, unless robust evidence can be provided to the contrary. In this case, Jacobs, the Council’s own noise consultant, has concluded noise impacts are acceptable”, she said.

“Because noise is a technical matter with so little scope for interpretation it is one of the more common matters which give rise to an award of costs against a Council.

“On the matter of landscape impact, while the weight to be assigned to the impact is a matter for the decision maker, the Council must still act reasonably in assigning the weight. The officer’s report makes it clear that impacts will be temporary, localised and reversible. The temporary nature of the impact will be an overwhelming factor in an appeal scenario and the risk of costs to Council and therefore the Lancashire taxpayer would be high in view of this.”

Cease and desist

Anti-drilling campaigners in East Yorkshire sent a document to councillors in Lancashire asking them to cease and desist any agreement to allow the go ahead of any conventional or unconventional mining activities in the Fylde. lcc notice

The campaigners said: “We stand in unison with the residents of Lancashire and of the whole UK, and we will hold you personally responsible for any future incidents in regards to your actions to allow high volume hydraulic fracturing to take place and indeed any underground nuclear waste disposal activities. Your decision will have a direct effect on our future.”

The document details what the campaigners say are both the risks of drilling and the damaging consequences of some oil and gas operations. It also warns decision-makers they will be held personally accountable for any offences under the Environmental Protection and Human Rights Acts.

Updated 29/6/15 to include information and link on Cease and Desist letter

4 replies »

  1. What worries me most is that councillors seem to have to defeat applications such as this on the grounds identified above and not on the fact that we should simply not be doing this for sound planetary reasons – such as leaky wells, increased methane, depletion and poisoning of water resources, continued reliance on fossil fuels and so on.

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