Guest post by Chris Redston
Chris Redston, a campaigner with Frack Free Ryedale, comments on what yesterday’s approval of exploratory shale gas drilling at Misson says about the planning system
On Tuesday Nottinghamshire County Council approved an application from fracking company IGas for exploratory drilling for shale gas at Misson in Nottinghamshire. This decision highlights a disconnect – indeed, a fatal flaw – in local planning policy in the UK.
Much of the discussion centred around whether the undoubted effects on the local SSSI nature reserve were acceptable due to the ‘temporary nature’ of the development. As one Councillor said:
“On the temporary impact on the SSSI, Natural England was confident there would be no permanent damage from air quality or noise impacts.”
This is because the Planning Committee have no choice under planning law but to consider the drilling of two exploratory wells at Misson as a one-off temporary development – such as, for example, building a house – which it clearly is not. If the exploratory drilling is successful, it will be followed by fracking applications, a multi-well frack pad, multiple horizontal wells, tens of thousands of truck movements and all the other dangers and impacts that fracking will inevitably bring to the local community.
The fact that Planning Committees are required to see exploratory drilling for shale gas as a one-off temporary development, rather than the first stage of an ongoing and wide-ranging industrial process that could last over fifty years, means that the long-term impacts of fracking in this area are never considered in the planning arena. As another councillor said rather disingenuously of the application at Misson,
“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.”
Again, this underlines a clear disconnect in planning policy, and highlights the way planning law is so heavily stacked in favour of the shale gas companies that such developments are becoming very hard to oppose – even when they are next to a SSSI and gather thousands of objections from local people, as this one did. It would be a brave council who would reject an application to frack in a year or two if they had previously approved the exploratory drilling. If they did, it would almost certainly be appealed, as was the case in Lancashire, where Communities Secretary Sajid Javid ignored the wishes of local people and overruled the decision of Lancashire County Council by permitting fracking at Preston New Road. Local democracy, it seems, only has weight if it agrees with central government policy.
Also, it is telling that the Planning Officer dealing with the Misson application placed considerable weight on the views of Natural England – a toothless government body that seems to approve of every development, whatever the impact on the local area and natural habitat – and completely ignored the seven-page letter from the local Wildlife Trust opposing the development. This illustrates the inherent bias within the planning system, where Planning Officers always seem to align themselves with the views of government bodies and the shale gas industry, and ignore any objections from other non-government bodies, however compelling and reputable they may be.
We now have a broken and unrepresentative planning system which ignores the wishes of thousands of local people who will have to suffer the damaging effects of this industry by saying that the number of objections is not a ‘material consideration’; which blithely accepts that exploratory drilling is ‘temporary’ when it is clear that it’s a Trojan Horse for decades of industrialised fracking; which is not allowed to consider the impact of future development that would inevitably flow from a successful exploratory well; which gives a huge amount of power to individual unelected Planning Officers, who routinely ignore all objections and simply regurgitate the shale gas industry’s opinion on all aspects of the development; which deems so many of the objections local people have to fracking as not in their domain and passes the buck to the Environment Agency (another government agency); which routinely ignores the climate change implications of fossil fuel developments, despite a legal obligation to do so; which puts Council Planning Committees in a position where they feel they cannot turn down these applications as if they do the government will overrule them anyway; which is now weighted so heavily in favour of the hydrocarbons industry and in which any semblance of local democracy has been completely eradicated. No wonder people have so little faith in the planning system when the rules that govern it have been rewritten and twisted to benefit one particular industry over the wishes of local people.
The veil of illusion that is local democracy has now been lifted – and what is revealed is nothing less than the industrial takeover of our countryside by the shale gas industry, sponsored by a willing and complicit government and rubber-stamped by toothless planning committees. The implications for our local democracy are grave and profound, and anyone who lives in a fracking licence area – which cover much of the country – should be very concerned indeed.
Chris Redston is a campaigner with Frack Free Ryedale
Quotes taken from the following website, which was a live update of the application hearing https://drillordrop.com/2016/11/15/live-updates-from-decision-day-2-for-igas-shale-site-at-springs-road-misson/comment-page-1/#comment-35915
More background on this website: https://drillordrop.com/2016/10/04/misson-decision-day-key-facts-on-igas-shale-plan-meeting/
Categories: guest post