Councillors in Trafford voted tonight to approve plans by IGas that could lead to 25 years of coal bed methane production from a site next to M60 in Davyhulme.
Only two councillors on the 12-member development control committee defied the recommendation of planners and voted against the application.
In a report to the committee, the planners said the development would not have any unacceptable environmental, ecological or social impacts. Although the area already exceeded air pollution limits, the site would have only an “imperceptible and insignificant impact” on nitrogen dioxide levels, they said.
Campaigners against the plan said they were deeply disappointed and said there were grounds to challenge the decision.
Jo Burgess, a founder of the Breath Clean Air Group (BCAG), said after the meeting: “This is dreadful. I am so upset. Some of the council have forgotten that they represent the people.”
“We do not want any more pollution, however small and however insignificant.”
The meeting heard that the council had originally approved drilling plans for the Davyhulme site in 2010. The current application sought to extend the permission for up to 25 years. It will allow IGas to drill two exploration wells and two production boreholes, as well as an access road, and equipment to generate electricity from any gas produced.
Dave Pearson, the council’s interim head of planning, said the current application still complied with national and local policies and there had been no significant changes to the site.
The committee had deferred a decision in October 2014 following objections on environmental grounds. It asked IGas to provide more information. Mr Pearson said: “These concerns have been addressed and I would suggest we have gone above and beyond what was required.”
David Fernandez-Arias, of BCAG, said approving the application would be “unconscionable and unlawful”.
He quoted from recent legal opinion by Robert McCraken QC, which said planning authorities had a legal duty to refuse applications that would result in an area not complying with the EU air quality directive. Granting permissions that resulted in breaches of air quality limits would be regarded as unlawful.
Ali Abbas, of Friends of the Earth Manchester, said there were clear grounds for refusal because of the potential impacts on local people and the environment.
“There is also uncertainty about the impact on the climate which would make a decision to approve the application potentially unsound and open to challenge.”
He welcomed the earlier decision by Trafford Council to refuse applications for fracking and said: “I am sure you are aware that similar risks apply to drilling for coal bed methane”.
He said the application lacked information on hydrogeology, noise, venting and flaring and economic impacts. There were also no conditions on drill depth, noise or a requirement for an impermeable membrane, he said.
“At Barton Moss, the applicant drilled into the shale layer, despite applying to drill for coal bed methane.”
Mike Hopkins, IGas’s planning consultant, said the company operated to “extremely high standards”. He said coal bed methane production at its Doe Green site at Warrington was “very low key”
Four Labour councillors who were not committee members spoke against the application. One of them, Cllr David Acton, said people in Davyhulme had suffered enough. “There is a time when we have to say enough is enough. We cannot take any more in this area”. He also said that 40% of CBM applications ended in fracking.
Another Labour member, Cllr Jane Baugh, said: “I believe that local people should have the right to decide on any controversial development in our community. We do not believe this is an acceptable use of this land.”
But two Labour councillors on the committee, John Smith and Philip Gratix, said nothing had changed since the previous application and they would support it. Cllr Gratix said:
“If we were to refuse this tonight we know for a fact that this would go elsewhere and it would be upheld.”
“It is not fracking. Fracking terrifies me.”
“I wish we were not having to do this in Trafford. But if we refuse it will come back to Trafford.”
The Conservative Cllr Michael Whetton, also supported the application. He said:
“I do give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction. I wake up every morning and I get hot water. That does not just happen. Someone, somewhere is getting that fuel out of the ground.”
Only Labour’s Cllr Dolores O’Sullivan and the Lib Dem, Cllr Tony Fishwich, opposed the application.
Cllr O’Sullivan said: “This is a massive development and it will have massive implications”.
“This could be a disaster waiting to happen. I want to err on the side of caution. I want to put people’s health before profit.”
When the vote came, some opponents of the application shouted: “We won’t be paying out rates” and “You are here to serve, not rule”
After the meeting, Mr Fernandez-Arias said there were clear grounds for a challenge.
“I got the sense that there was concern not to be seen to have made a wrong decision initially and I think they placed great weight on the officers’ report, which we know to be incorrect and incomplete.”
“I think the majority of the members there do not truly understand the reality of what people are living with in that area”.
He also criticised the council for limiting the time of public presentations. “For something this important, that will last 25 years, I think it is disrespectful to only allow three minutes.”