Campaigners opposed to gas extraction near a Derbyshire village are celebrating after a planning inspector ruled in their favour.
An appeal by Alkane Energy and its subsidiary Seven Star Natural Gas against refusal of planning permission was dismissed yesterday (28th October 2015).
The decision brings to an end a three-year fight for the campaigners involving three planning applications.
Alkane Energy wanted to drill up to two exploration wells into what it described as a conventional gas reservoir. The proposal site was a field off Dark Lane in Calow, near Chesterfield. Alkane’s application included testing and extraction of gas and the generation of electricity from gas produced for up to 15 years. The scheme had been turned down by Derbyshire County Councillors in July 2014.
In his report on the appeal, the planning inspector, Chris Preston, said the development would harm the local landscape and badly affect people living closest to the site. This outweighed the benefits of any gas it produced.
In a statement the campaign group, Calow Against Gas Extraction (CAGE), said:
“The number of sleepless nights, the hours spent pounding the streets delivering leaflets and evenings spent sitting around kitchen tables working on opposing the application during the past three years have been well worth it.”
“The residents of Calow are very happy and relieved at the outcome. Now the community of Calow can get on with their lives without this blight to the village. A big ‘Thank You’ to each and everyone who has helped and supported us.”
The local MP, Labour’s Dennis Skinner, described the decision as “excellent”. He said: “I am very happy this has occurred.” Mr Skinner raised the issue during a parliamentary committee hearing earlier this week. DrillOrDrop report.
Alkane Energy, which is in the process of being taken over by Barbican Bidco Ltd, said it was unable to comment.
The decision notice for the appeal can be viewed on the Planning Inspectorate’s website here.
The planning inspector said the appeal dealt with three issues:
- The effect of gas extraction on the character of the area
- The effect of noise, traffic and visual impact caused by the proposal on people living nearby
- Whether the need for gas extraction and benefits to the economy outweighed adverse effects on the area and residents
Effect on character and appearance The company had argued that the proposal would have “no adverse impacts” on the character of the landscape. But the inspector said “I do not concur with that assessment”. He said:
“[The proposal] would cause significant harm to the character and appearance of the area; harm that would not be off-set by the proposed mitigation”.
“It would harm the relatively unspoilt setting of the village and, when viewed from footpaths to the south, the proposed screening would not mitigate against the prominence of the substantial acoustic fencing and 11 metre tall flues which would be prominent and intrusive features in the landscape.”
“Whilst the proposal is temporary, in human terms it would represent a significant period of time within which those residing close to the site and using the adjacent rights of way would have to contend with the visual effect of the proposal.”
The inspector’s report said the area was “an attractive rural setting with the patchwork of enclosed arable and pastoral fields in the foreground with the village on the ridgeline”. Comments to the inquiry and the well-trodden footpaths showed the landscape was “clearly valued” by local people, the inspector said.
He added that proposals to regrade a slope of the site to create a level platform would “contrast awkwardly with the established landform”. And proposed earth bunds, designed to mitigate this, would cause further harm.
Impact of noise, traffic and visual effects on local people The inspector said the visual impact of the development would harm people living nearest to the site, about 100m away.
Their open outlook would be replaced by an industrial appearance, he said. And he criticised photographs submitted with the application which, he said, did “not accurately reflect the way in which the proposal would be viewed or its likely impact.”
He said noise from the site would not harm local people and the level of activity from the development would be no more than that expected from farming. He also ruled that the proposal would not significantly harm human health, lead to vibration or subsidence or cause highway problems.
Benefits to the economy outweigh adverse effects The inspector said the benefits of energy production counted in favour of the proposal. But he gave “great weight” to the “significant harm” it would cause to the local landscape and living conditions of people living next to the site.
He also said the company had not shown why electricity must be produced at the drill site.
“I can find no presumption in national policy that would require the electricity generating equipment to be located at the same point at which the gas is extracted. Whilst I appreciate that there may be cost efficiencies in locating the generating phase at the point of extraction, the information presented does not demonstrate a compelling need for the electricity generating infrastructure to be located in such a prominent location, in close proximity to residential properties.”
The inspector questioned whether the company had taken account of the impact on the landscape and neighbouring homes when choosing the site.
“The information submitted with the appeal does not identify an imperative need to locate the proposal at the appeal site, or to construct the electricity generating phase of the development at the exact point of extraction.”
“I consider that the harm that would be caused to the character and appearance of the area and neighbouring living conditions is not justified.”
August 2012 Seven Stars Natural Gas/Alkane applies to drill near Callow. Application withdrawn following concerns about noise and visual impact.
August 2013 Second application submitted but later withdrawn to address concerns about public notices.
January 2014 Third application submitted
May 2014 Derbyshire County Council planning officers recommend approval of the scheme
July 2014 Decision notice refuses permission by Derbyshire County Council
January 2015 Seven Star/Alkane appeal against the refusal
August 2015 Site visit by the planning inspector
28th October 2015 Planning Inspector, Chris Preston, dismisses the appeal