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.
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.
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