Residents of a small village near Swansea are to make a formal complaint about how councillors decided a planning application for coal bed methane exploration near their homes.
This afternoon, a meeting of Swansea Council’s planning committee unanimously approved the scheme by UK Methane for a site at Bryntywod.
The discussion lasted under 25 minutes and only three members of the committee said anything about the application before the chair, Paul Lloyd, called a vote.
Gareth Watson, who lives in Bryntywod and spoke on behalf of the opponents, said:
“We will be making a formal complaint. It was not a fair debate.”
One of the committee members, Cllr Des Thomas,said it would be hard to find planning reasons to refuse the plan. He told the meeting:
“If we refuse and it goes to appeal and we do not have reasonable grounds we will have costs awarded against and we cannot afford pay them.”
But Mr Watson said there were reasonable grounds for refusing the application.
“They did not get discussed. The moment they talked about costs it stopped all discussion.”
“There were ducks swimming on the site this morning”
One of the objections put forward by local people was that the site near Llangyfelach was on the flood plain of the Afon Lan river.
Another opponent, Vince Hide, said councillors, on a visit to the site this morning, saw it was flooded.
“This was a site they said didn’t flood. Today it was operating as it should, as a flood plain. There were ducks swimming on the site today. But they never discussed this.”
Mr Hide described the meeting as “ridiculous”.
“It was really disappointing. None of the councillors had any understanding of the reasons given in the objections. They just accepted the planning officers’ recommendations.”
The planning officers recommended approval of the application, citing local planning policy which is to support drilling for coal bed methane provided certain criteria were met.
But the leader of the council, Robert Stewart, who is not a member of the committee, suggested at the meeting that this policy, R3 in the unitary development plan, was out of date. “The policy has been in place for nearly 10 years”, he said.
Mr Hide said the council should also have considered policy R1 which required mineral developments to satisfy 10 requirements before it was permitted.
Claims of scaremongering
One member of the committee, Cllr Ioan Richards, said there were two exploratory boreholes in his ward and there had been no problems with them. He said:
“There has been a lot of scaremongering. Not by the residents but by people who have misled the residents.”
But Mr Hide rejected Cllr Richards’ comments.
“That was completely false. The campaign has been run by residents. We had some input from Frack Free Wales and Friends of the Earth but they kept a respectful distance. They have not been scaremongering.”
Details of the application
The meeting heard the proposed site, next to the M4, was 270m from the nearest home and about 8m from the Afon Lan river, which is used by otters, brown trout, eels and possibly bats. It is part of a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.
UK Methane proposes to drill an appraisal borehole to 1km to take samples from the coal measures. Site preparation would take two weeks. Drilling the borehole would last eight weeks, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
The rig would be 18m high and the site surrounded by 2m security fencing.
Oliver Taylor, a director of UK Methane, said the application did not include production or fracking. Approving the borehole would not mean the site would definitely be used for gas production later, he said.
The planning officers’ report accepted UK Methane’s assurance that vibration would be minimal. It said conditions could include “limiting the use of particularly noisy plant or vehicles”. It also said pollution risks and impacts on local people could be controlled by planning conditions.
There were three petitions against the application, with a total of 450 signatures, as well as nearly 140 letters of objections. Four members of the Welsh Assembly, including a cabinet member, had objected to the scheme, along with the community council.
As well as the risk of flooding, the reasons given in the objections included:
- Air, water, noise and light pollution
- Increased traffic
- Industrialisation of a rural area
- Disturbance to local residents
- Damage to local roads
- Ecological damage to marsh grassland (a priority habitat)
- Contribution to climate change
- Reduced house prices
- Threat to tourism
Opponents also said there were no proven socio-economic benefits from the application, there were fears that it would lead to fracking and suggestions that it was contrary to the Well Being and Future Generation Act (Wales) 2014.
The ward councillor for Bryntywod, Gareth Sullivan, said there was widespread concern about the application. He said the diesel engines that drove the drilling rig would affect air quality.
“Is this a suitable place for an industrial operation? The residents and I would say emphatically no and ask members to reject the application.”
Gareth Watson told the committee UK Methane had no social licence in Bryntwod.
He said there were 36 homes. It was a village, not a collection of dwellings as described in the officers’ report. The homes were, on average, 350m from the site, he said, and the application should be refused on that ground alone.
“We are dismayed that the planning officers’ report fails to consider the closeness of the site and the cumulative impact of the development.”
He said the fears of local people was a material consideration and this had not been acknowledged.
The planning officers recommended 13 conditions on the permission. There was no discussion of them by the committee.
The conditions included a requirement that work begin within five years and that once the site preparation started permission would last for 12 months. There were also recommended conditions for a restoration plan, pollution prevention method statement, compliance with drilling guidelines, the location of the fuel store and an 8m buffer between the site and the river. Work must cease immediately if bats are seen on site.
Updated 9/12/15 to correct total number of petition signatures from 250 to 450 and to clarify that the site is next to the M4.
This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here
The Chairman of the Committee failed to control or guide the meeting. All the points made by committee members were either directly or indirectly inadmissible. Ioan Richards who accused us of scaremongering and informed the committee all was well because there had been test drillings in his ward had caused no negative impact. The implication made by him was that therefore there would be no problem on this site, this point was accepted by the committee including the chairman although my understanding is that each application should judged on its own merits. No discussion of this nature took place and the committee and the planning officer failed to explain to the committee why he felt none of the opponents legal points were not valid or relevant.
The only other points mentioned by committee members should have ruled as out of order and not relevant to the merits or otherwise of this particular application. These were (1) They could not pass the application for fear of the cost of an appeal. (2) The decisions of other authorities which were not relevant to the merits of this particular application.
The fact that the application site was on the flood plain of a spate river subject to frequent flooding and the borehole is only a metre or so from the river bank. I my opinion these features are unique to this application were not even discussed in the committee debate.
This is just shocking. What kind of council makes a decision like this in 25 minutes? And the photos of the flooded site make this council look even more ridiculous. This complaint should be upheld in any normal society. It just shows the pressure councils are being put under to approve any oil and gas application, however unsuitable the site.
I am afraid your standard of independence has been compromised here Ruth.
There is no mention that the site is right at the side of the M4 and the A48. That is a permanent source of pollutants. Why should there be any issue with a temporary installation, with its associated diesel generators. Are we going to stop farmers ploughing their fields withe diesel trucks next?
As for the land being in a semi flooded state, well any plans will have to satisfy the Welsh Environment Protection people. That means chemical proof pad linings/flood mangement strategies etc. Is it now beyond the whit of man/woman to lay down a limestone chipping bed?
The tone of this article assumes that its ‘obvious’ that this site is unsuitable. Alas there is no evidence that this is the case. Thats probably why it was passed. Its no big deal, they are evaluating what could be a very useful source of energy. Thats energy that we will otherwise get from importing from dodgy countries like Qatar, or Russia.
Its is good that you noted that there were allegations of ‘scaremongering’. Thats all the anti people have, as scientists and engineers have looked at all of these issues and found them to be perfectly safe, if done properly. The scare stories from the US (most of which are made up anyway) are nor applicable under UK regulations.
Thanks for your comment. I did mention the site was north of the M4 – but your point is a fair one. I didn’t make it clear that it was next to the motorway. I have made that change, along with a correction to the number of petition signatures, which was understated by more than 200 in the meeting. Best wishes, Ruth
The scare stories from the US (most of which are made up anyway) are nor applicable under UK regulations.???
Sorry, the scare stories from the US?
Which are those?
The report to Congress on carcinogens found in frack fluid and damage to the environment?
The New Yorks reports on health destabilisation written by key health specialists?
The seismic reports written by expert geophysicists?
The freswhater pollution wholescale across many states, written by scientists?
The Ciornell reports coming out of teh university?
The Ingraffea statements, reports and experiential analysis, given he once advised frackers but has now declared what they are doing as immoral and highly dangerous.
And are you seriously suggesting all this experiential expertise is just scare stories and not applicable in the UK…Well I am now terrified that such abnegation of responsible and due diligence is being rolled out wholesale and is the biggest scare of all.
Stop scaremongering!!!! Look at the science, look at the facts, listen to those who know what is really happening. If frackjng is safe, present ALL the evidence before accusing others of what you are guilty.
Thanks a lot Ruth. It is pretty relevant!
This application was to drill a borehole, not to extract gas. And the remark regarding costs being awarded against the Council was in reference to the Committee not finding good Planning Grounds on which to refuse the application.
I do hope this isn’t too scaremongering. It is however interesting that there is no report back from government agencies about pre sampling and testing of air, land and freshwater on proposed or even existing drill sites, in the public domain?
How are these councilors or planners expected to make sensible decisions when so little information is being disseminated, especially if we are to consider drilling for oil and horizontally for gas is safe? Surely current findings exist somewhere, is so and they prove fracking is safe, and attempts to make it safe are having this pretesting factored in, then why isn’t the info in the public domain?
Freshwater in this country will soon be exposed to the greatest danger. As if nuclear leaks near Sellafield weren’t enough to worry us, and nuclear dumps in Scotland are now a source of campaign for those living near them, then why should a new industry be allowed to be rolled out, when current dangerous ones are a sign our government isn’t up to the job of impact assessments, and good management practise incorporating proper monitoring and enforcement, long and short term?
Here is one example of a sign of things to come in this country, amidst the lack of public info on the safeguards to be implemented before this regime rules:-
Click to access dimock-action-memo-01-19-12%5B1%5D.pdf
We should be pushing ahead with the Swansea Bay Lagoon and other green forms of energy. If we could keep their start up and running costs to a minimum whislt maximising their potential, we wouldn`t need to extract of frack?These big companies , and especially the American ones wouldn`t see The UK as the cash cow they do at the moment…and would , hopefully, get lost!