Residents opposed to Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road in Lancashire have complained that the county council’s planning officer had undermined the scale of objections.
The officer, Stuart Perigo, told the committee considering the application last week there had been 18,106 objections, more than 11,000 of them from Lancashire, and 217 letters of support.
Mr Perigo told the development control committee: “The number of representations against must be kept in context.” He said they represented a small proportion of the Lancashire population and a negligible proportion of the UK population.
“It [opposition to a scheme] is not a material reason for refusing the planning applications. It is the points made that are more important.”
“Very skewed presentation”
But Pat Davies, of Preston New Road Action Group, said yesterday: “The way in which the Planning Officer presented the facts was very skewed, with the massive number of objections broken down by area while the letters of support were presented without comment. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t worthy of comment, that only 217 people in the entire UK had supported this application?”
“This fact alone speaks volumes. Only 217 people bothered to support Cuadrilla by formally writing to support, while over 11,000 from within the county wrote in objection. Lancashire has spoken clearly it doesn’t want or need fracking. We are asking councillors to resist the pressure being put on them by officers and stand up for local residents who have put them in office to look after their best interests”.
The committee meets again tomorrow morning, when it is expected to make a decision on the application.
Frack Free Lancashire has also complained about comments made by Mr Perigo about national campaigns against fracking.
“Councillors were also told that ‘several groups have ran national opposition campaigns against the industry’”, the campaign group said.
But there was no comment, the group said, about lobbying in favour of the industry. Frack Free Lancashire said there had been no mention of what it described as the “considerable resources of the pro-fracking lobby – including the Cuadrilla-funded North West Energy Task Force, and the vast number of PR companies which Cuadrilla have employed”.
Frack Free Lancashire quoted an investigation by Spinwatch, which said Hanover, Bell Pottinger, PPS, and Hanover Communications had all worked for Cuadrilla.
The group was also concerned about warnings given to councillors during last week’s discussion of a motion to refuse the Preston New Road application. LCC’s legal officer said Cuadrilla could appeal against a refusal and if it won costs could be awarded against the council.
One member of the committee, Paul Hayhurst, told us councillors had been warned they would be breaking the law if they refused the application. (This advice has since been contradicted by a barrister for Preston New Road opponents.)
Ebony Johnson, of Frack Free Lancashire, said: “Over the three days of meetings so far councillors have not said a single positive thing about fracking, only fear of Cuadrilla appealing and the costs incurred.”
“It is alarming if councillors are being misled and threatened by officers that they would be acting illegally if they were to refuse the applications. We have presented evidence including from Barristers that the application should be refused on planning grounds. These are elected Councillors and they must act in the interests of residents and local democracy, not the threats of corporations and hidden executives.”
The Committee is due to decide on the application for Preston New Road at a meeting, starting at 9am tomorrow (Monday) at County Hall in Preston. A rally by Frack Free Lancashire, an alliance of 39 community groups opposed to fracking, is planned outside County Hall from 9am.