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Guest post by Chris Hesketh: Bonds for shale gas sites are an important part of the campaign

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Earlier this week, researcher Russell Scott questioned whether restoration bonds for shale gas sites could protect communities. In this Guest Post, Chris Hesketh responds that they are a valuable campaign tool. 

Russell makes a very good case for Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) to increase the amount of the bond based on comparable experiences from the USA, and that it should include ‘after care’.  However, the conclusion that otherwise the bond isn’t worth the paper that it is printed on and that the precedent would be dangerous, is one that I cannot agree with.

Frack Free Notts (FFN) and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) should be congratulated on establishing a valuable precedent.  Prior to their intervention, it appeared that NCC were intending to apply very little weight to paragraph 048 of the the Minerals Planning Policy Guidance (MPPG), even though it is an important planning consideration.  The paragraph stipulates that the applicant must be in sound financial health in order for permission to be granted.  A glance at the IGas share price history tells a story, and Russell has already elaborated on this far more in his post.

NCC could have refused permission at this stage and campaign groups fighting similar battles in the future should aim for that as their outcome.  This is a very useful precedent that has now been set.

Once the significance of paragraph 048 had been highlighted, NCC were forced to choose between refusing permission, or granting it with a bond.  The MPPG makes it clear that the bond option is only applicable in exceptional cases.  The point to note here for campaign groups in the future is that they need to pre-emptively present robust evidence for the definition and scale of the bond, should the council deem that exceptional circumstances apply.  All good learning courtesy of CPRE and FFN.

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My thoughts and sympathies go to the people near Misson for what they are going through, but we also should be grateful to them.  The delays and additional costs are the opposite to what IGas would want, and given the seemingly precarious state of the company’s finances, the Misson bond might turn out to be the decisive factor.

3 replies »

  1. Hi Chris,

    I enjoyed reading your post and I agree NCC, FFN and CPRE should be thanked for ensuring a ‘bond’ will be in place. Unfortunately over in North Yorkshire the council (NYCC) decided to not enforce a ‘bond’.

    My biggest concern is that from the correspondence I’ve read between NCC and IGAS that the wording of the bond is all a bit woolly and if it’s to really do it’s job needs to be increased in value and provide cover for all associated risks.

    I am also concerned about how it is likely to be administered. IGas mentioned taking out an insurance policy for £650k but this was to cover the well abandonment and a few other associated items only. details
    of how this policy will come into force in the event IGas go bust isn’t mentioned in any correspondence I’ve seen .

    when this information is made available by IGas I hope NCC’s legal team study the wording and various clauses to ensure this is robust enough prior to acceptIng.

    but, I do agree with you that NCC, FFN, CPRE have done a good job in ensuring a bond is part of the conditions.

    Best
    Russ

  2. Hi Russ
    Thank you for your kind words, and yes we have agreement. Interestingly the planner recommendation for the recent Tinkers Lane application included recommending that a bond be included so this time it wasn’t left to the campaign groups to push the case. Second time around, the terms are likely to be more watertight.

    For CrossPartyFrackFree, the link to the MPPG is here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/minerals

    Best wishes
    Chris

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