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.”