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Guest Post: Trojan horse fracking application shows failure of planning law

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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.

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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/

50 replies »

  1. One question. Does anybody know what happened to the judicial challenge against the Lancashire approval by Javid at Rosearce and Preston New Road.
    I thought someone gonna challenge his repeal decision in court.

    • I don’t think the anti frackers will be able to finance a judicial review. Looking at the previous crowdfunding attempts they’ve fallen way short and that was only for small sums in comparison.
      As far as I am aware there are no applications for further action.
      There is the Third Energy hearing in December however that will not go any further as I believe the main argument is climate change and any half decent lawyer for Third will have a field day with that being the argument.

      • I thought they were gonna challenge the Minister decision. If there is no judicial change within six weeks then the deadline is passed on their JR challenge. Is that correct? And what happens to the crowd funding and any further challenge?

      • Mr M . I’m interested in how you think ‘any half decent lawyer for Third will have a field day with that’ (vis-a-vis climate change).

        UK has just now ratified its Paris agreements so climate change impacts should be a material consideration. Shale gas fields are proving themselves on a par with coal, or worse, due to rogue methane emissions, venting and so forth, and methane is 20-80 times worse that C02 as a greenhouse gas … the reason for thatbroad (20-80) range as I understand it is down to how you measure the timescales and whether the methane source is replenished or held constant – atmospheric methane diminishes over time, a decade or two, but what’s happening now is there’s just more and more of it around.

        Atmospheric methane has grown substantially in the last ten years and fracking has been a major contributor – there’s now a methane veil in the upper atmosphere in the northern hemisphere extending almost to the equator. Of course scientists just get called alarmists for pointing this out but some already believe the the global methane trip-wire has been triggered, i.e. a point at which methane warming takes over from CO2 effects, and climate change is now also being accelerated by seabed methane-hydrates and arctic/Siberian permafrost melting. The trajectory we’re on is beginning to look like the trace (climate/atmosphere) evidence from around the time of the Paleo mass extinction.

        Will the UK now go down the Trump route and say screw all that?

        • … oops . I meant Permian mass extinction (which of course sounds over dramatic, but bear in mind that on geological time scales a few centuries or thousand years or so are like a heartbeat).

          • Permian Period 299 – 251 million years ago, the last part of the Paleozoic Era (541 – 251 million years ago). So you were correct in that the Permian mass extinction did indeed take place during the Paleozoic Era.

            Don’t forget that around 9,500BC, during just 50 years, temperatures rose a massive 7 deg C – and this was a global event. Ice-house to greenhouse in a generation. This is confirmed by Greenland ice core data – and apparently there is no explanation. This was the end of the Younger Dryas Ice Sheet which covered Western Scotland between 10,500 BC – 9,500 BC. Neanderthal Man died out, cave art ceased and agriculture began in the Euphrates Valley.

            • Yes I remember reading about that somewhere. With a positive feedback loop underway (which we seem to be on the cusp of climate-wise) an entire system can go through a massive change in a very short time. Then there’s catastrophic events – large volcanoes, meteors etc and sometimes even biological forms can go through a huge/rapid expansion and affect climate e.g. algae or zooplankton in the oceans.

            • Phillip…. peer reviewed journals I have read on Methane radiative forcing properties show that methane is 102 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in the first year and declines reaching parity with carbon dioxide after 67 years. How they are compared leaves for a gulf of opportunity to reflect things to suit.

              O a seperate though, coming back to our unfit for purpose systems when implementing the Paris agreement.We have given the Bank of England independence on certain economic targets recognizing that government is neither well equipped and perhaps to short term in its approach to be the safest pair of hands. This could certainly be said for climate change which is more complex and he impacts are fall well beyond the political cycle. Perhaps we should allow an independent body govern GHG emissions and therefore the energy policies that drive them.

            • OK, that makes sense, thanks Stuart.
              I thought the UK is already bound legally to certain carbon targets and would therefore face stiff penalties if not meeting them (?) but who really monitors this I don’t know.

  2. I have had the same feeling of “hitting my head against a brick wall” when trying to stop wind turbines being erected.
    We were actually successful on a site in Dumfries and the council agreed the development would have a detrimental impact on the area so refused planning, however the Scottish Government overruled just shy of a year later a few weeks ago.
    I feel your pain.

  3. I agree very much with the analysis here. It should be added that Cllr Calvert and 3 others voted against and gave clear planning grounds for objecting. I think I am right in saying that Cllr Calvert, who is now retired, was formerly a planning official. It was entirely possible for the committee to vote against – and Frack Free Notts, Misson Parish Council, the Notts Wildlife Trust and Misson Action group gave them the reasons. Frack Free Notts final lobbying letter which gave grounds for turning down the application was sent by a former planner too.

    The councillors who voted for this application implied that they felt that they had no choice and the officials also acted as if they had no choice. They were complementary to us in the opposition in the way that politicians like this usually are but my own feeling is that these expressions of sympathy, and those that said they opposed fracking in principle, but this was “only an exploratory well” were saying this in an almost classic case of what Sartre calls “Bad Faith”. Denying they had a choice when they did.

    It may have been a hard choice but they all flunked it. As I said at an earlier meeting – they will now have to answer to their grandchildren. That is what “sustainability” means.

    They betrayed them.

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