In the past few minutes, the government has given the go ahead for fracking at one site near Blackpool in Lancashire. But it has delayed a decision on plans for another site.
The decision overturns Lancashire County Council’s refusal of Cuadrilla’s application for Preston New Road, Little Plumpton. No decision has been made on Roseacre Wood, which was also refused by the county council.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, said Cuadrilla’s proposals to drill, frack and test for shale gas at Preston New Road were in the national interest.
He said he was minded to approve the plans for Roseacre Wood but he proposed to reopen the inquiry into the appeal. This was to allow Cuadrilla to put forward any other evidence on highway safety and for the opponents to respond to it.
A formal letter from the government said:
“Subject to being satisfied that the highway safety issues identified by the Inspector can be satisfactorily addressed, the Secretary of State is minded to allow Appeal C [Roseacre Wood] and grant planning permission, subject to conditions.”
The inspector at a six-week public inquiry, Wendy McKay, held earlier this year, had recommended the Preston New Road go ahead but recommended refusal of Roseacre Wood.
Pat Davies, Chair of Preston New Road Action Group, said:
“This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this government neither listens nor can it be trusted to do the right thing for local communities.
“It is deplorable that an industry that has been rejected on every level has inflicted itself on Preston New Road.
“Westby Parish Council, Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council planning committee all said no to this application. These reasons were based on facts and knowledge, they rejected the site as unsuitable.
“Dismantling the democratic process to facilitate a dirty fossil fuel industry when only months ago the UK committed to climate change targets in Paris is another example of saying one thing and doing another.
“Profit clearly comes before people. This decision will be scrutinised by many, not just the people of Lancashire and this travesty of justice will not be accepted. This is not the end. We will challenge this.”
Barbara Richardson of Roseacre Awareness Group said:
“If fracking goes ahead in Roseacre, it would devastate our community. We are allowed to make decisions over wind turbines or solar farms, which have far less impact, but not fracking.
“We are not scaremongers, just concerned residents. These are totally inappropriate greenfield sites, situated in the very heart of rural Fylde, for an industry of this nature.
“So much for our government saying they want local people to have control over their own destiny. Even our own MP urged his own ministers to respect local decision makers.
“We will continue to work with our friends at Preston New Road, and other threatened communities, to stop fracking from happening. It has been a David and Goliath battle. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources of Cuadrilla and the oil and gas industry.
“Fracking is not the solution. It is a backward step in energy policy. Ours is a small and densely populated country, unlike the wide open spaces of the US, which cannot support such an industry without devastating results. Be assured this is about money not people.”
The decision on Preston New Road is a shot in the arm for the shale gas industry, which saw consideration on plans by IGas in Nottinghamshire deferred yesterday after a legal warning. But the boost could be temporary because groups opposed to the plans are expected to bring a legal challenge to the decision.
Earlier this week, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said he was confident that the company’s plans would be approved. In the summer, the company advertised jobs in Lancashire.
Cuadrilla applied more than two years ago for up to four shale gas wells at each site. If the Preston New Road scheme goes ahead it would see the first horizontal wells to be drilled, fracked and tested in the UK. It would also be the first fracking approval on a greenfield site since 2011.
Mr Javid’s announcement follows the decision by Lancashire County Council in June 2015 to refuse both Cuadrilla’s applications.
Councillors on the development control committee voted by nine to three with two abstentions to turn down the plans for Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.
They argued, against the advice of planning officers, that noise from the scheme and its appearance would have an adverse impact on local people. There had been more than 18,000 objections (excluding duplicates) and five petitions against the plans with a total of 32,559 signatures.
Also in June, councillors unanimously refused the application for Roseacre Wood, in line with the planners’ recommendation. More than 15,600 people objected to the application and signatories to petitions against the plans totalled more than 91,000.
Just under a month later, Cuadrilla appealed against the decisions and arrangements were made for a public inquiry in Blackpool.
In November 2015, the government announced that the appeals would be recovered, which meant it would be decided by the Communities Secretary, not a planning inspector. The then Secretary of State, Greg Clark, said the proposals were of “major importance” and “more than local significance”. They should, he said, be decided by the Secretary of State.
Opponents to the plans accused the government of lack of democracy and hypocrisy for promoting the idea of localism but taking decisions away from local politicians. Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, urged Mr Clark to “demonstrate that he has listened to people’s views whether they are for or against.”
The government also announced it would recover appeals against refusal of permission for a monitoring around Preston New Road and conditions on a similar scheme at Roseacre Wood. These appeals have also been approved, following recommendation by the iquiry inspector.
Cuadrilla first submitted its applications back in May 2014 for Roseacre Wood and the following month for Preston New Road. The plans, for up to four shale gas wells at each site, first came before Lancashire County Council’s planning committee in January 2015. Planning officers recommended refusal at Preston New Road on noise grounds and Roseacre Wood on noise and traffic grounds.
Cuadrilla asked for a deferral and proposed acoustic around both sites to reduce noise impacts. It later withdrew these proposals.
The Preston New Road site would be 7.3ha including the access road and Roseacre Wood would be 1.34ha plus access. Up to four wells on each site would be drilled to a maximum depth of 3,200m and then horizontally for up to 2,000m from the well pads.
Cuadrilla applied for costs against Lancashire County Council for the Preston New Road appeals. Mr Javid followed the recommendation of the planning inspector and refused the costs for the drilling/fracking/testing appeal but allowed costs for the monitoring appeal.
In a letter published on the Planning Inspectorate’s web pages for the appeal, the Secretary of State concluded on the drilling/fracking/testing appeal:
“a full award of costs against Lancashire County Council, on grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, is not justified in the particular circumstances. The application is therefore refused.”
But on the monitoring appeal, the letter said:
“He has decided that a full award of costs, as specified by the Inspector … is warranted on grounds of unreasonable behaviour on the part of Lancashire County Council.”