Councillors in Nottinghamshire resume their discussion at 10.30am of an application by IGas to drill two shale gas wells at Springs Road, Misson, in Bassetlaw.
The decision was deferred on 5 October to allow the county council to take legal advice on a covenant on a neighbouring nature reserve preventing disturbance to wildlife. Details
DrillOrDrop is reporting live from the meeting at County Hall so check here for updates. Key facts on the committee and the application
Cllr John Wilkinson reads out the proposal to approve the application with legal agreement and conditions. This to include a liaison group, financial bond and off-site monitoring of water levels.
The legal agreement must be signed by January 2017.
Vote: 7 in favour; 4 against
Those in favour: Chair John Wilkinson (Labour, Hucknall), Vice-chair Sue Saddington (Conservative, Farndon and Muskham), Andrew Brown (Conservative, Soar Valley), Roy Allan (Labour, Arnold South), Jim Creamer (Labour, Carlton West), Stan Heptinstall (Lib Dem, Bramcote and Stapleford), Keith Walker (Conservative, Balderton)
Those not in favour: Steve Calvert (Labour, West Bridgford Central and South), Rachel Madden (Ashfield Independents, Kirkby-in-Ashfield), Andy Sissons (Mansfield Independent Forum, Mansfield), Yvonne Woodhead (Labour, Blidworth)
Chair John Wilkinson says he wants a restoration bond.
Vice chair Cllr Sue Saddington asks if the OGA will require a restoration bond and why the information on the alternative sites was not provided.
Jonathan Smith, planning officer, says the information on the site search is in the planning application and officers’ report. He says it would be unreasonable once they had chosen their site to put that level of detail into the alternative sites which they had dismissed. He says
We are comfortable that they have looked at a wide range of issues in the site they have chosen. We believe the site is an acceptable location.
Cllr Heptinstall asks for a bond and water monitoring to be required.
Planning officer, Jonathan Smith
Mr Smith says there is no reason why a liaison group should be written into the legal agreement in the planning condition.
He said monitoring of water levels off the site could be covered in a legal agreement.
Mr Smith says:
It is not a clear cut decision. On balance, it is an acceptable use of land. But it is very balanced and there are pros and items against.
On traffic routes, Mr Smith says breaches of traffic route conditions are generally very rare in Nottinghamshire. You can lose your contract if you don’t abide by the condition. I am confident it will work, he says.
On temporary impacts on the temporary impact on the SSSI, he says Natural England was confident there would be no permanent damage from air quality or noise impacts. We place considerable weight on the response from Natural England.
Natural England gave this a great deal of thought. I don’t think they reached their decision lightly.
On finance, Mr Smith says the planning authority had no power to carry out financial checks. We are told not to cover the same regulatory ground, he says.
That is why we don’t see the need for a financial bond.
He says that since 5 October, there had been financial developments with IGas. He adds: If members feel they need for a restoration bond one can be put in place.
Cllr John Wilkinson
The committee chair, Cllr Wilkinson thanks the committee.
He asks the planning officer, Jonathan Smith, to address comments on temporary impacts, the liaison committee, monitoring and alternative sites.
Cllr Wilkinson also raises the issue of IGas’ financial circumstances. He asks the officer:
What is the security that residents can take away here about any financial failure once drilling starts.
He asks again whether the council could demand a financial bond. And he notes that concerns have been adequately addressed.
Cllr Sue Saddington – support
Cllr Saddington, vice chair (Conservarive) thanks residents for sending material to the committee.
I look at this from the point of view of the impact on the residents.
We have a lot of concerns but they are not material considerations for this application, she says.
We must have material planning considerations to refuse this.
She says the applicant has come in with a particular site. The letter from the wildlife trust says there are other sites.
My question is why the applicant did not look at the other sites and not just this one. Why don’t we have the information about this.
Cllr Saddington also asks how do we know it will be temporary damage to wildlife.
Where is the proof that we won’t have a permanent change or permanent problem.
This is the most difficult decision we have had to make for many years, she says.
What we need is the absolute assurance that all precautions should this go through and more is taken for this site and that the monitoring is done. Surely it would be better to have an independent person.
The liaison committees are so important because is the point where you can voice your concerns or this committee can be informed it is not being monitored.
As we sit here there is not a planning reason to refuse.
I would have liked the information about the other sites but it is not a planning reason.
Cllr Andy Sissons – opposes
Cllr Sissons (Mansfield Indpendent Forum) says be believes there could be more permanent harm to the SSSI. He says the letter from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust raises issues.
I don’t think enough has gone into this. I still have serious doubts.
Cllr Rachel Madden – opposes
Cllr Maden (Ashfield Independents Group) describes the shale wealth fund and community benefits as a bribe.
She says she is concerned about highway safety and she is not convinced lorry drivers visiting the site will follow the traffic management plan.
She says there is too much of everything else happening the area. Misson Springs is a unique area,she says. Who are we to say that an insignificant increase in air pollution, noise, or traffic will not affect local wildlife
She says she is disappointed by Natural England for its response of no objection. There are too many unknowns in this application, she says.
I am not happy with this. I don’t think I can support it.
Cllr Steve Calvert – opposes
Cllr Calver (Labour) He says he was open-minded on 5 October unsure how he would vote. I have concerns about government energy poliicy, he says, with promotion of shale gas and high-carbon fossil fuels, he says.
He highlights changes to planning guidance to make shale gas extraction easier and describes the shale gas wealth fund as a “rather cynical way to influence opinion”
There is a valid argument that approval could open up the way to full blown shale gas extraction, he says. But he accepts the application is not for fracking.
He says he does not believe climate change issues are a material consideration for the application.
He asks whether the benefits of the application outweigh local impacts. He notes that IGas has dismissed alternative sites and that the site-selection process has been criticised by opponents.
He says officers acknowledged two other sites were at lower risk of flooding but there was no justification why they had not been considered by IGas. The harm on the SSSI would be reduced if the site was located to one of the alternatives. He says
I am not convinced by this conclusion [in the officers’ report] that the benefits outweigh the impacts.
He calls on IGas to give more consideration to the alternative sites.
I believe it is important to be cautious
Subject to what I may here from others I am not convinced the case has been made
Cllr Jim Creamer – supports
He calls for monitoring on the site, which he says is extremely important. He says:
Most of the objections since the last meeting are on grounds we don’t control.
I can’t see any reason to object. I do object to the government passing this on to us. These licences shouldn’t have been given.
We should be going along with the Paris Accords. We can’t question those licences. My personal opinion is we shouldn’t have to deal with this. But we have it and we have to deal with it on planning grounds.
Cllr Keith Walker – supports
He says he supports the liaison group and would make this part of the condition
Debate begins: Stan Heptinsall – supports
Cllr Stan Heptinsall (Lib Dem) refers to a letter received on 5 October from Friends of the Earth about the covenant, on which the council took legal advice.
He says this delayed a decision for six weeks, which he says was a shame. Personally, I would have liked to have come to a decision on that day, he says.
This is not an application for fracking. It is an application for exploratory work to see if the potential for fracking is there.
That is for a later consideration. Our consideration is for whether there should be exploration on this site.
The whole decision-making process is held by government, Environment Agency, licensing authorities and other organisations. Our role as a planning committee is simply look at this location as to whether exploration is allowable.
On whether this was the right location, he says other sites could have other considerations. Any other sites would be closer to Misson village and would have more impact of the eventual development, he says.
It is an industrial location already but it is adjacent to an SSSI. I accept the location so what is the impact on the SSSI.
Cllr Heptinsall says he is delighted that officers have enhanced conditions on protected the SSSI.
We should be monitoring and we should be cognisant that this application is next to a SSSI.
He says: My current thought is that given the boundaries of what we are asked to do I would be in favour of accepting the recommendation.
Rachel Clack, legal officer, says it is possible to consider the site selection process. If the development is considered acceptable then it is not appropriate to refuse permission if an alternative proposal elsewhere would be more acceptable.
Alternative sites: another pause
Chairman Cllr John Wilkinson asks if any other issues have arisen since the last meeting. Planning Officer, Jonathan Smith, says other letters received yesterday and today concern issues that have been taken account of in the officers’ report.
Cllr Andy Sissons asks whether alternative sites are a material consideration that can be discussed. Mr Smith says the application site is an acceptable use of land. Rachel Clark, legal officer, says members have to consider the application to the particular site.
Cllr Wilkinson presses:
Is it permissible to take into account the existence of other sites as a material consideration?
At 11.28am Ms Clack asks for a pause of five minutes to talk to colleagues
Meeting resumes: discussion begins
Cllr Jim Creamer says the precautionary principle is raised in the letter and asks for an explanation.
Jonathan Smith says there is no reference to the precautionary principle in the National Planning Policy Framework, the local minerals plan or documents from Natural England. He says the application has to be determined against the policies in national and local planning policy.
Mr Smith says the use of the land at Springs Road, Misson, is deemed to be an acceptable.
Chairman Cllr John Wilkinson pauses the meeting for members to read the letter from the vice president of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
The letter, by Graham Machin, a former planning barrister, says under proper application of national and local planning policy the impacts of the shale gas site on the Misson Training Area Site of Special Scientific Interest compel the council to refuse the application.
Letter from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust
Planning officer, Jonathan Smith, says the vice president of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has sent a seven page letter to the committee. Copies are to be circulated to members. He says the letter does not change officers’ recommendations on the application or raise any relevant legal issues. The author has reached a different conclusion on how planning policy relates to the application, he says.
Mr Smith recommends the committee follow the views of officers, not the vice president of the wildlife trust.
Chairman John Wilkinson asks if there have been late representations.
Planning Officer, Jonathan Smith says 24 letters of objection have been received. They include opposition to fracking on climate grounds, fossil fuels, contrary to planning policy, site selection, cumulative impact, water contamination, failure of the sequential test, wildlife impacts, effects on well-being, traffic impacts, water transport and disposal, landscape and visual impact, industrialisation of the countryside, impact on recreation and tourism and listed buildings, unexploded ordnance, financial status of IGas, impact on house prices.
Misson Parish Council and others requested a financial bond for restoration because of IGas’s financial difficulties. Mr Smith says the OGA will only grant consent to drill when all consents are agreed and it is satisfied that all environmental and financial controls are in place.
Officers are satisfied that all the checks are in place and a restoration bond is not necessary, Mr Smith says. This would duplicate the work of the OGA.
Opponents have said the horizontal well was a novel technique and so a bond was justified. But Mr Smith says the horizontal drilling techniques do not count as novel.
Mr Smith quotes a ministerial statement by Amber Rudd that there is a national need for shale gas exploration. He says Friends of the Earth says this applies only to safe and sustainable developments and because of the proximity of the SSSI the application is not safe or sustainable.
But Mr Smith dismisses this argument. He says Natural England has not objected to the application because it is temporary and the noise or air quality impacts will not have a permanent impact. Significant weight has been attached to the Natural England advice.
Mr Smith refers to new concerns about the noise levels on site. He recommends changes to conditions on noise which would allow officers to respond within 24-hour to any exceeding of noise levels. This means noise levels would be monitored live by a site operator. On air quality, he recommends a small change to the condition. He says air quality monitoring now underway would be expected to continue.
He says lighting conditions are sufficient and do not need to be strengthened. He says no amendment to conditions on groundwater monitoring are needed.
On monitoring of breeding bird behaviour, Mr Smith says this is not required and does not need to be written into conditions.
Bassetlaw district plan
Jonathan Smith, Nottinghamshire County Council planning officer, says Bassetlaw District Council, in which Misson is site, has published its initial draft Bassetlaw Plan since the previous meeting.
He says this sets out key objectives and a vision and proposes a strategy for planning in Bassetlaw district. It has not yet identified development sites or agreed policies.
Mr Smith says negligible weight should be accorded to the emerging plan.
Chairman John Wilkinson asks if there is anything in the approaches that would be material to the application.
Mr Smith says the approaches cover climate change, economic development and protecting the historic environment but they are already covered in other local planning policies.
Questions from councillors
Cllr Stan Hepinstall asks whether the legal opinion must be followed or whether it was advisory.
Rachel Clark, the council’s legal officer, says the letter from Friends of the Earth was from Jake White, legal officer for the organisation. She says the planning system is to regulate the use of land in the public interest.
If IGas were not able to implement the permission because of the covenant it was not the concern of the council, Rachel Clark says.
Cllr Rachel Madden asks if the case law referred to in the legal advice is the most recent. Rachel Clack says it is.
Legal Officer, Rachel Clack, reads a summary of legal advice on the covenant. Friends of the Earth wrote to warn that the covenant prohibited the use of the site for any noisy, noxious or disturbing activity. FoE said approval would involve IGas in illegal activities.
She says County council legal advice is as follows: the restrictive covenant is not a material planning consideration. The right to enforce it will exist in civil law, despite the approval of the application. The covenant would be for negotiation between the covenant holder and the operator. There would be no automatic breach of covenant if planning permission were granted, she says.
Officers have demonstrated why it is in the public interest on balance to grant permission for shale gas exploration, she says.
Rachel Clack says officers have shown that the private interest of the covenant does not need extra protection by the council.
The Section 106 agreement would not be unenforceable, as Friends of the Earth suggested, Rachel Clack says.
Restrictive covenants are not material consideration and members are not required to take them into account when determining the planning application.
Committee chairman, John Wilkinson, opens the meeting.
He recaps on the application to construct the site, drill a vertical and a vertical/horizontal well, test the wells and restore/abandon the site.
He says the planners recommend approval of the application with conditions and a legal agreement on routing lorries to the site.
Cllr Wilkinson says the previous meeting on 5 October had been adjourned to allow the committee to obtain legal advice on the covenant on the neighbouring nature reserve.
Opponents and IGas supporters arrive
John Blaymires, IGas chief operating officer, takes his seat. Members of Misson Parish Council, which opposes the application, arrive at the council chamber.
Campaigners gather outside county hall