Cuadrilla’s bid to frack in the Fylde stalled today as Lancashire County Councillors refused a second planning application.
In a wider margin than expected, the council’s development control committee voted by nine to three with two abstentions to reject the scheme to drill, frack and test up to four wells at Preston New Road near Little Plumpton. Last Friday, the committee voted unanimously to refuse permission for another fracking application at Roseacre Wood.
Today’s decision was greeted by a standing ovation, cheers and tears of relief from opponents of the application.
Pat Davies, chair of the Preston New Road Residents’ Group, said “the local community can breathe again”. Cuadrilla said it would consider an appeal. Detailed reaction from the application’s opponents and supporters and the Councillors.
The committee rejected the advice of planning officers and guidance from the council’s legal team and its barrister.
During discussions last week, councillors were told there were no material grounds to refuse the application, which at six years was regarded as temporary in planning terms. If they turned it down and Cuadrilla appealed, there would be a high risk that costs would be awarded against the council, they were told. A vote against the application on Wednesday was drawn seven votes all with one abstention and was defeated on the casting vote of the chairman, Munsif Dad.
“We want to do the right thing”
Cllr Hayhurst said of last Wednesday’s discussions: “I felt that we were put in a position where we were told it would be unlawful and also irresponsible to refuse the application. We had a very difficult situation because none of us want to be irresponsible but we want to do the right thing for our residents.”
Cllr Hayhurst referred to written guidance from the council’s barrister, David Manley QC, which arrived on Thursday morning last week.
“I felt very angry because the information from Mr Manley was by no means as strong as that given by officers”, he said.
He also referred to other guidance from barristers for Friends of the Earth and the residents’ group. Dr Ashley Bowes, for the residents, said there are two reasons to refuse which would be wholly defensible on appeal: noise and visual impact.
“He quite clearly says it is up to members to make the decision”, Cllr Hayhurst said.
“We have handled this very badly. We have to listen to residents”, he added. “This application is in the wrong place. There is an industrial estate and business park a mile away. They could put this rig there and it would not have the visual impact. It should not be in open countryside where it can be seen for miles.”
“We were told how high the wall [acoustic screen] would be and it would twice the height of this room. We need to revisit this proposal for refusal,” he said.
Visual impact and noise: reasons for refusal
Cllr Hayhurst said the application should be turned down because it would cause unacceptable adverse visual impact from the drilling equipment, the noise mitigation measures and the flare and it would have an adverse urbanising effect on the open and rural character of the landscape.
The visual impact puts the application in breach of policy DM2 of the Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan and EP11 of the Fylde Local Plan, Cllr Hayhurst said. He added that the noise impact on the amenity of local residents, which could not be adequately controlled, was in contravention of DM2 and EP27 of the Fylde Local Plan.
“No good reasons for refusal”
Cllr Barry Yates said there were no good reasons for refusing the application. We should go ahead with the exploration wells, he said. He proposed a motion to approve the application with the extra condition that Cuadrilla should be required to take out public liability insurance.
Cllr Alan Schofield and Cllr Malcolm Barron supported the motion to approve. Cllr Marcus Johnston said “This is crunch time”. He said if the decision were refused it was likely that the committee members would have to give evidence at an appeal. The committee would have to sort this out, he said.
Cllr Terry Aldridge said if the application were approved it would be up to the people of Lancashire to pick up the tab if anything went wrong.
The tipping point appeared to come when Cllr Michael Green spoke. He had abstained in the vote on Wednesday. This morning, he said on the basis of evidence and the committee discussion he would be voting the refuse the application.
“I do not have a principled position for or against fracking”, he said. But he said the more he had looked into fracking the more concerns he had. “It has been a very difficult process. My mind has moved about on this issue from time to time throughout this process”, he said.
“I was minded to refuse last week”. But he said the advice from officers had been that a refusal would be irresponsible, unreasonable and unlawful.
“And that is why I abstained last week”, he said, “not a position I was particularly pleased to take”.
He said advice from other barristers had been that there were grounds to refuse the application that could be defended on an appeal. “We should place great weight on the landscape harm and less weight on the temporary effect of that harm”, he said.
The committee also voted by ten votes to four to refuse Cuadrilla’s application for seismic monitoring in the Preston New Road area. It said the application would have an industrialising effect on the countryside.
- In response to the decisions shares in IGas, one of the few London stock market listed shale companies, responded sharply down:
- Despite government support for shale gas, only one Conservative voted against the refusal of the application. The figures were: Refuse the application: 5 Labour, 3 Conservative, 1 Independent; Abstain: 2 Conservative; Approve the application: 2 Labour, 1 Conservative