Senior Lancs councillors criticise Cuadrilla‘s record on planning conditions


Cuadrllla’s Preston New Road site. Photo: Neil Terry

A leading member of Lancashire County Council joined criticism today of Cuadrilla’s record on planning conditions.

Marcus Johnson, the cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, told the council’s development control committee this morning:

“It has to be said that, as we are discovering at Preston New Road, the applicant [Cuadrilla] doesn’t have a particularly good record when it comes to planning conditions.”

Since Cuadrilla started work at its Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool council planners have admitted they have received “a lot of complaints and allegations” about breaches of the traffic management plan and other conditions on work at the site.

Cllr Johnson, who voted for the Preston New Road application, was speaking at a meeting at which Cuadrilla sought relaxations of planning conditions at another Lancashire shale gas site.

It wanted a taller rig, longer working hours, higher noise limits and an extended duration for plugging, abandonment and restoration at Becconsall on the Ribble Estuary.

Cllr Johnson (pictured above left) said:

“You can hardly say that the applicant has made life easy for himself in this case. They have had nearly three years then they suddenly discover that the equipment they need isn’t available.

“I realise that this isn’t a planning argument but it really does make you have some doubts about this particular applicant.”

The committee approved some of Cuadrilla’s proposed changes for Becconsall  (DrillOrDrop report) but members voiced their frustration at the requests.

Cllr Nikki Penney, pictured second left,  questioned why the company now needed a 32m rig when it had previously agreed to one 22m high.

“You don’t just disappear a rig. If there is no reason then I think this committee is being held in contempt, when they [Cuadrilla] start wriggling whenever we tell them what we want and what would be better for the future and they come back with something else.

“It is contemptuous quite frankly.

“I think that we should stick to the times and dates and heights and everything else from now on because quite frankly I am fed up of them coming back and back and back.”


Cllr Kevin Ellard, the vice chair of the development control committee (pictured second right), likened the discussion to Cuadrilla offering to buy his house:

“They make me an offer of half a million pounds and then come back at the last minute and say ‘We’ll give you £250,000 instead’. My reaction would be ‘Where’s the discipline?’

“I haven’t been convinced for the need for change to the original conditions. There is a discipline with this process that has been gone through some years ago.

“I haven’t been convinced that the applicant cannot do the job within the conditions.”

Cllr David Howarth, pictured right, said:

“I recall when they lost a drill down there at the drilling site and then they were here saying ‘If we can’t do this it won’t be restored’, and so on and so forth.

“It’s almost like we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t give them [permission] because they get the planning approval, there are conditions attached to it and then they appear to come back with ‘We’ve got a problem now and we can’t restore the site unless you agree to change it’. I just want to know how many more times are we going to have this.”

DrillOrDrop invited Cuadrilla to respond to the criticisms. A spokesperson said of the rig:

“We can confirm that the 22m rig we had originally intended to use to plug the well is no longer available and to suggest we are misleading on this point is nonsensical as the higher, 32m rig is a less cost effective solution for us.”

Preston New Road Action Group, which opposes Cuadrilla’s shale gas operations, said this afternoon:

“It’s not surprising to hear our elected councillors seem to have difficulty in believing Cuadrilla can effectively stick to agreed planning conditions, after having experienced so many breaches and failures in the past.

“As the unfolding debacle continues at Preston New Road and planning conditions are being flouted daily, it’s more confirmation that this company is not fit to operate in our communities.

“We stand with our friends in REAF, and expect the planning department to fully uphold their duty in enforcing planning conditions at Becconsall: we have not yet seen this happen at Preston New Road.”

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

16 replies »

    • Taken from the original application

      ‘Figure 1 below shows the typical dimensions and
      layout of the work-over rig’

      ‘Should LCC require details of the work-over rig before commencement of
      operations the applicant would be happy to provide these, however the dimensions
      would NOT EXCEED the parameters detailed in figure 1.’

      If you care to look at figure 1 you will see it clearly states 22m

      Now they say.

      The original application was submitted utilising Cuadrilla’s rig which has been decommissioned. To replace the rig a contractor’s rig is required. Subsequently the rig height has increased from 22m to 32m.

      Nothing like the original

      Last year no work at all was carried out at the Becconsall site even though they told the residents and LCC they would have the site restored by October 2016.

      In all that time they could not organise the hire of a ‘typical work over rig’ of 22m or less.

      No wonder those who decide whether this industry can develop are doubting the companies ability to do what they say.

  1. They missed a lot of deadline didn’t. The site deadline extended twice. What were they doing all this time? Sitting on their hands. No wonder the local has a bad image about Cuadrilla. Poor management again.

  2. ““You don’t just disappear a rig”…..get back to school!”

    No you’re right Peeny – I doubt Cuadrilla actually owned a rig for them to “disappear” – or would they have maybe kept one in the filing cabinet in Lichfield just in case? What do you think?

  3. If you had worked in the industry you would understand that the costs associated with hot stacking (working and ready to go), cold stacking (mothballed) and recommissioning and mobilising a stacked rig are high. Usually millions of dollars are required to recommission a cold stacked rig. So why would a company keep a rig ready to go for an undefined period in case it got planning permission and might go back to work if there is an alternative rig available at market rates for the required short period? The 10m difference in height is a red herring, another last ditch attempt by the antis to try and stop something they don’t want. Although why they don’t want the well P & A’d and the site restored is beyond me? I thought the whole anti thing was about keeping things as they are? Why object to site restoration? After all the well in it’s current state will be leaking millions of tons of methane and volatiles into the atmosphere and accelerating global climate change. Why would you not want to end this? You really are an odd bunch… A 440k electricity pylon is 50m high and is there forever, well almost. Do you object to these as well?

    • Nobody is objecting to site restoration! The point is that Cuadrilla had 3 years to sort this out after their application went in so now they can’t provide the rig they said would NOT EXCEED 22m, they say it’s not available! Why do you defend that? Oh sorry, you would defend them whatever they did or, in this case, didn’t do? Now that is odd!

      • Indeed Maureen – he doesn’t seem to understand why people are concerned by Cuadrilla’s inability to abide by the regulations and conditions that they have agreed to. It’s not like it’s the first time is it?

        • Perhaps you don’t understand the business? Make them use a 22m rig and forget about site restoration.

          • So are you saying that the rid they agreed to use in the original application could never have been used for site restoration Paul. I mean I don’t know, but if so you seem to be suggesting that Cuadrilla have been very manipulative here.

            • I am saying that the 22m rig probably doesn’t exist anymore, or at least is not serviceable. So they should be made to use a rig that is ready to work as soon as possible and that you should not keep harping on about the height – which is significantly less than a pylon.

  4. As a councillor I expect those who receive planning permission with conditions to keep to those conditions or lose the permission to proceed AND reinstate the site.

    • Then why have Cuadrilla been allowed to get away with planning breeches at Preston New Road? Why do they no longer need to have a wheel wash for lorries leaving when that was part of the planning application?

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