Planners have recommended approval of the first shale gas exploration plans in Nottinghamshire.
IGas is proposing to drill and test up to two wells at Springs Road, Misson. The application does not include plans to frack, although the company has said it may want to do this later.
A decision on the proposal will be made next week by Nottinghamshire County Council’s planning committee at a meeting starting on Wednesday 5 October.
Councillors will hear presentations from opponents of the scheme including Misson Parish Council, Misson Community Action Group and Frack Free Nottinghamshire. They will also hear from IGas and the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas.
DrillOrDrop will be reporting with live updates from the committee meeting.
“Impacts outweighed by support for gas exploration”
A planners’ report to the committee, published yesterday, (see Breaking news) said impacts of the scheme were either acceptable or not significant. It concluded that any impacts were outweighed by support in national and local policy for oil and gas developments.
But the report did concede there would be “a temporary significant effect” from traffic and plant emissions on the Misson Training Area Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
This should, under national planning policy – the National Planning Policy Framework – be enough to refuse the application. But the planners said:
“The NPPF allows an exception to be made where the benefits of the development, at this site, clearly outweigh both the impacts that it is likely to have on the features of the site that make it of special scientific interest and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest”.
The planners also concluded that there were likely to be alternative drilling sites that would have less impact on the SSSI and have a lower flood risk. This should also mean the application was refused. But the report concluded that neither the impact on the SSSI nor flood risk justified refusal.
Comments on the application
The report said the council had received 2,630 public comments, of which 2,624 objected and 6 supported the application.
A petition opposing the development had 363 signatures.
A survey commissioned by Misson Parish Council found that of the 396 residents surveyed, 87% opposed the application, 4% in favour and 9% undecided.
Of the organisations that must be consulted, 44 raised no objection and 11 raised objections.
Impacts on Site of Special Scientific Interest
The planners concluded that emissions from traffic and equipment would have a temporary significant effect on the Misson Training Area Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There would also be some noise impact on the edge of the SSSI.
This meant the application should be refused. But the report said the effect was unlikely to be permanent. It also said an exception could be made under national planning policy where the benefits of the development “clearly outweighed” the impacts on the SSSI. Natural England had recommended conditions to ensure no long-term impact. The planners argued:
“This significantly reduces the weight that is attributed to the impact on the SSSI.”
However, to meet local planning policy, the developer must show there are no other suitable alternatives. The report concluded:
“It is judged that there are likely to be other “reasonably available‟ sites and therefore, the proposed development does not accord with policies DM9 of the Bassetlaw Core Strategy and DM4 of the [emerging] Nottinghamshire minerals local plan.”
But the report concluded:
“The MPA [mineral planning authority] does not consider the temporary impact on the Misson Springs SSSI to be a reason for refusal.”
On other nature conservation impacts, the report said:
The impact of noise, lighting, hydrology and hydrogeology, subject to conditions, would be acceptable on designated ecological sites.
It described the proposed development site as “not valuable in terms of habitat” and said there would be no unacceptable impact on protected species or regionally or locally designated ecological sites”.
Ground and surface water
The report concluded there would not be an unacceptable risk to ground or surface water flows, the level or quality of water or flooding.
However, it accepted that other potential drilling sites had a lower flood risk. This meant the proposal did not pass what is known as the “sequential test” under national planning policy. It also did not comply with Policy DM12 (Flood Risk, Sewerage and Drainage) of the Bassetlaw Core Strategy and SP4 (Climate Change) of the emerging Nottinghamshire minerals local plan and should be refused.
But the planners concluded:
“The MPA [mineral planning authority] does not consider the fact that the Sequential Test has not been passed to be a reason for refusal when it is satisfied that the proposed development would be safe and not lead to increased flood risk elsewhere.”
The report said
“The specific contribution of climate change emissions has not been assessed, however, it is judged that emissions would be limited primarily to those from vehicles and drilling equipment which are considered to be generally small. There would be no emissions relating to well testing.”
The report said its position was supported by the Committee on Climate Change document The compatibility of the UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK‟s carbon budgets.
Impact on heritage
The report said:
“There would be a degree of harm to heritage assets, specifically the setting of Newlands Farm for a temporary period”.
This meant the proposal did not comply with Policy DM8 (The Historic Environment) of the Bassetlaw Core Strategy, which had a presumption against development that would be detrimental to the significance of a heritage asset.
The report concluded that the harm was not substantial. It was justified by the “great weight” given to mineral extraction in the National Planning Policy Framework and the “pressing need” in Planning Practice Guidance to establish whether there were sufficient recoverable quantities of unconventional hydrocarbons.
The planners reduced the weight that could be given to policy DM8 because it did not allow for the balance of significance versus harm or for the consideration of a clear and convincing justification.
The proposal complied with local policies on archaeology, listed buildings and conservation areas, and the historic environment, the report said.
The report said:
“Traffic associated with the proposed development would not have an unacceptable impact on the surrounding highways network and measures would be put in place to prevent traffic from using unacceptable routes.”
The planners said the cumulative transport impacts of the development would not be severe and so the application should not, according to the National Planning Policy Framework, be refused on traffic grounds.
A Section 106 legal agreement would ensure heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) used the correct route. Other conditions would control mud and other materials affecting the highway.
The report says the proposal, subject to conditions, would generate noise at levels below what it called applicable thresholds.
The development complied with policy M3.5 (Noise) of the Nottinghamshire Minerals Local Plan, the report said. This states that development would be granted only where noise emissions outside of the boundary of the mineral workings did not exceed acceptable levels.
It also met Policy DM1 (Protecting Local Amenity) which supports minerals development where is can be demonstrated that adverse impacts on amenity, including noise, can be avoided and/or adequately mitigated.
The report said there are no local policies on vibration. It said “there would be no perceptible vibration from drilling activities”.
The report said the development would result in an average of 36 HGV movements, at its peak, over a 12 hour working day, or one every 20 minutes. These levels of traffic would not result in unacceptable adverse vibration, it concluded.
The report said conditions would ensure that light reaching nearby homes would be within “acceptable levels”. The proposal therefore met Policy DM1 (Protecting Local Amenity).
The 57m drill rig was “substantial” and would have a visual impact, the report said.
But the report added: “given its relatively short duration of nine months, the impact is not considered to be unacceptable”.
Little could be done to screen the rig and other tall equipment and so additional screening and landscaping was not necessary, the report concluded.
Impact on the landscape and tourism
Because the proposal was temporary and reversible, the impact on the landscape was acceptable, the report concluded, and met local policies on landscape character, open space and biodiversity.
The planners concluded the view of the site may have some impact on leisure and tourism but it would be temporary and they did not consider it would be significant.
Impacts on other businesses arising from perception of the operation were “not quantifiable and specific evidence has not been provided”.
Any economic benefit to local business from workers on site or through the supply chain would be temporary and unlikely to be significant, the report concluded.
Dust and emissions
The report said impacts would be controlled to acceptable levels by planning conditions.
The proposed site is a former Cold War missile base. Gas has proposed surveying before and during construction to reduce risk of disturbing ordnance the report said
The cumulative impact of this and other local developments was possible, the report said, but was not significant.
The proposal complied with the sustainable development objectives of the minerals local plan, the report concluded.
On other minerals, it said:
“The proposed development would not unduly affect any other underground mineral resources within the County”.
Other development policies
The development complied with local planning policies on economic and general development in the countryside, and securing economic development, the report said.
The report recommends 37 planning conditions. This include:
- Development must begin within three years of the permission
- It must finish within three years of the start date
- The site must be cleared if work stops for a period of three months before permission ends.
- Drilling must not exceed nine months in total
- Nottinghamshire County Council must approve the drill rig before drilling begins
- HGV movements allowed only between 7am-7pm, Monday-Friday and 7am-1pm on Saturdays
- HGV movements shall not exceed 60 per day (30 in and 30 out) or 198 (99 in and 99 out) in any seven day period
- Working hours are limited to 7am-7pm Monday to Friday and 7am-1pm during site construction, testing and restoration phases. Work during the drilling phase will be 24-hours a day
- Night-time noise will be limited to 42 decibels at any nearby home. Daytime and evening noise levels will not exceed 55 decibels at any nearby home.
- During drilling, noise at the Misson Training Area SSSI shall not exceed 42 decibels
- Construction and restoration will not be carried out during the bird breeding season (February-August) unless approved by the county council