Councillors in Nottinghamshire have backed IGas’s plans for a second shale gas site in the county – but by a margin of just one vote.
The county council’s planning and licensing committee voted by six to five in favour of the site at Tinker Lane, between the villages of Blyth, Barnby Moor and Torworth.
The vote came at 6.02pm, after six hours of presentations and debate on the scheme for a single vertical exploration well. Live updates from the committee
The plans, which do not include fracking, were opposed by Bassetlaw District Council and five parish councils. There were more than 800 objections to the scheme and 70% of participants in a survey carried out in Blyth were against it.
IGas welcomed the decision this evening. Its chief executive, Stephen Bowler, said:
“At this stage we, as well as other onshore operators around the country, are trying to establish if the significant quantities of gas that we have identified exists in the right formations to be commercially prospective and address the issue of security of supply that we face.
“We now have the consent to develop a wellsite and drill an exploratory well, in addition to the Springs Road application that was granted in November. Results from these wells will help us better understand the shale gas potential in North Nottinghamshire.”
Frack Free Notts, which opposed the application, said:
“We are beyond disappointed by the decision of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Planning Committee to approve the application by Dart Energy for exploratory drilling at the Tinker Lane site in Bassetlaw.
“This is the second approval in Bassetlaw, forming the start of an industrial gas field. This approval is despite overwhelming local opposition to the application, with 99.5 per cent of those consulted by Nottinghamshire County Council being opposed to the application.”
Chris Crean, Midlands campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:
“This is a very disappointing decision from Nottinghamshire County Council with the narrowest of margins. There were plenty of reasons for the planning committee to turn it down, including the fact that the planners’ report admitted that greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts had not even been considered.
“The government may want to impose this industry on people who don’t want it but councillors should reflect the clearly-stated wishes of local people and reject the industry.”
An hour before the vote, it looked as if the committee might delay a decision because of concerns that geological information used to assess the application had pre-dated recent coal workings.
Some councillors were worried that seismic survey data, collected in the 1980s, wouldn’t show whether a fault at Tinker Lane had been aggravated by subsequent mining.
But council officers said this was not in the committee’s remit. The council’s legal officer, Rachel Clack, said it would be unreasonable to defer the application or to ask the Health and Safety Executive to review the advice it gave during a consultation. An adjournment could open the council to an appeal and costs, she said.
Planning officer, Oliver Meek, told the meeting:
“I am absolutely satisfied that this aspect is covered by another regulatory body and we can rely on the assessment undertaken by them.”
There were calls from opponents of the application for IGas to carry out 3D seismic surveys before drilling the well, because of concerns about old mine shafts and sink holes.
The committee’s deputy chair, Cllr Sue Saddington, said:
“The residents of these villages do not have the confidence of IGas. By doing a 3D seismic survey it might gain the trust of residents.
“If you are doing this where I lived I would be anxious too. Why didn’t you go the extra mile and do the [3D] seismic surveys. You knew they were worried. To go that extra mile would be a great plus for your company.”
But John Blaymires, the chief operating officer for IGas, said the company had multiple 2D seismic data.
“That is sufficient to drill an exploratory borehole”, he said. The nearest mine working was nearly 1km away.
“There is absolutely no risk. There is absolutely no need for 3D seismic surveys to drill this vertical well safely”.
The committee also considered requiring IGas to provide a pedestrian crossing in Blyth village, opposite the school, which is on the route for heavy goods vehicles visiting the site.
Cllr Saddington said:
“We would be allowing this to go ahead with no facilities for children to cross the road with the additional lorries”.
Opponents told the committee Blyth was already “over-trafficked” and the traffic modelling for the site and other recent or planned developments was incomplete.
Christie Willis, chair of Torworth Parish Council, said the addition of Tinker Lane lorries would make traffic levels “completely unmanageable”.
But council officers said the road did not meet the criteria for a crossing, even with increased traffic generated by the site.
Mr Meeks said Highways England and the county highways authority had no concerns about the capacity of the road network to cope with additional traffic. There was also no justification for a reduction of the speed limit on the A634 where the site is based.
IGas had offered to avoid taking lorries past Blyth primary school at pick-up and drop-off times. Members agreed to add an extra 30 minutes either side of these times to take account of a breakfast and after-school club.
The committee heard repeatedly that local people distrusted IGas. One reason was a breach of planning permission at Tinker Lane when the company put security cabins and fencing on the Tinker Lane site without consent. The application being considered today included retrospective consent for this equipment.
Mr Blaymires said the legal advice given to the company was that it didn’t need consent. He said:
“We do not, and never would, do anything that we believed to be illegal.”
But Cllr Stan Heptinstall said this was “incredible”. And Cllr Jason Zadrozny said:
“This does nothing to inspire confidence. It demonstrates that you do not understanding planning”.
One opponent described a community liaison committee (CLG) for Tinker Lane as dysfunctional.
Cllr Peter Thompson, of Blyth Parish Council, said he had “grave doubts” about the ClG.
“There are four members of that group here today to make presentations against the application. This is not a good start to win the local community’s trust.”
The committee chair, Cllr John Wilkinson, suggested that IGas could delay the Tinker Lane application until it had drilled shale gas wells at Springs Road, Misson, five miles away.
“Why not take the option of waiting and show there is no doubt because you have proved everything you said had come true.”
Mr Blaymires, for IGas said, 2,000 wells had been drilled onshore in the UK. “At what point do you have to stop proving yourself?”, he asked.
“Part of what we are trying to do is quickly understand will the gas commercially flow. The issue of drawing out this period of uncertainty it feeds on itself, it creates more anxiety than it is necessary.
“One single well is not going to answer the question. To get through that process quickly is the best way to address that anxiety.
“The quicker we can get to the answer, the quicker we can get to what a development looks like.”
Councillors also pressed Mr Blaymires on IGas’s financial viability. The company is currently negotiating for a capital restricting of the business. The share price has fallen dramatically in the past two-three years.
Mr Blaymires told the committee IGas had $31m in the bank. But officers said concerns about the company’s stability justified requiring a bond to cover the cost of restoring the surface of the site, should IGas go out of business.
Mr Meeks said abandonment and restoration of the well were the responsibility of the Oil and Gas Authority.
The bond is to be included in a legal agreement, known as a Section 106. The agreement also includes a designated route for heavy goods vehicles, a driver code of conduct and a liaison group for residents.
The agreement is part of the 52 conditions attached to the planning permission. They require the scheme to be started within one year. IGas told the committee it expected to start work later this year. Other conditions included:
- Drilling phase limited to four months
- HGV movements capped at 30 in and 30 out of the site
- Controls on light, noise, emissions, dust and surface water contamination
- Noise monitoring for the first week of drilling
Cllr Heptinstall warned IGas:
“Local residents want assurance that those conditions will be adhered. Because we’ve seen one instance of it going wrong, we fear something could go wrong again.”