Dart Energy’s trouble-hit plans to test drill for coal bed methane at Dudleston Heath in Shropshire now look doomed. The licence giving access to the proposed site at Brooklands Farm has lapsed and campaigners who blockaded the entrance have begun dismantling their protection camp.
The local opposition group, FrackFreeDudleston, said last night if the community remained united the threat of drilling was over.
Landowner Paul Hickson told BBC News the three year agreement to cross his land has now lapsed and he would not renew it.
A statement from FrackFreeDudleston said:
“The Access Licence with Mr Hickson which allowed access to the site has lapsed. This alone means that the drilling will not take place.”
“We have established that this area is geologically unsuitable. We have also established that we have a very united community, willing to stand up for itself in defence of the rural way of life that we enjoy.
“Almost all landowners in the area now understand the harm that would be inflicted by even just test drilling for gas and they know that they would be letting everyone else down if they were to sign up. Provided we remain united, the threat has pretty much gone away.”
Dart applied for planning permission in spring 2014 and Dudleston Protection Camp established at the site in June. The company had expected the drilling, if approved, would take place that autumn.
But in January this year (2015), Dart appealed over the failure of Shropshire Council to decide the application by the agreed deadline. The appeal is currently going through the early stages of a planning inquiry.
The company asked the Planning Inspectorate to decide the application by written representation, which would mean no evidence would be heard in public. But after two changes of mind, the Inspectorate settled on a full inquiry at which all sides would be allowed to call witnesses. Last month, FrackFreeDudleston was awarded Rule 6 status, allowing it to present evidence and cross-examine Dart’s witnesses. If the inquiry runs its full course it could be 2016 before a decision is made.
“The planning application was contested by the whole community and is continuing its slow and tortuous passage through the planning appeal process. Now that the Access Licence with Mr Hickson has lapsed, it is technically possible for Dart to win the appeal and end up with a permission that they have no ability to utilise.”
But the group said it was confident this would not happen.
“FrackFreeDudleston are working with Shropshire Council to present a thoroughly robust case that should establish a national precedent for an unconventional gas application being refused planning permission at appeal.”
Dudleston Protection Camp aimed to prevent physically any drilling from taking place. FrackFreeDudleston said: “That is happily no longer going to be necessary here and we would like to thank Yellow and his colleagues on behalf of the community for their dedication to the cause”.
We asked Dart’s owners, IGas, to comment but there was no-one available to take our call. We will update this post if, or when, IGas responds.
Updated 16/7/15 to include quote from Paul Hickson