The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, has been given the go-ahead for round-the-clock deliveries at its fracking site near Blackpool.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee voted narrowly in favour of a change to a planning condition at the Preston New Road site.
This is the second alteration to conditions at the site this week. Two days ago, changes were approved to the environmental permit on fracking fluid volumes and flaring. Another bid to change the rules on surface water was announced this morning.
Cuadrilla said the change to the planning condition on deliveries was needed to avoid disruption by protesters.
Campaigners against the company’s activities said the change wasn’t justified and planning procedures had not been followed correctly.
They said they were disappointed in today’s vote of six in favour, five against and one abstention. They described it as a dilution of the conditions and an erosion of protection for residents.
Councillors who voted against predicted the change would make matters worse. Deliveries 24-hours a day, seven days a week, would lead to 24/7 protests and increase the bill for policing at the site, they said.
Cuadrilla sought to change planning condition 19 set by the inspector at the 2016 public inquiry. This limited deliveries and removals from Preston New Road to the period 7.30am-6.30pm. The company applied to allow deliveries outside these hours on nine occasions over the remainder of the development.
The company’s technical director, Mark Lappin, said protesters had targeted deliveries to the site since work began in January 2017. Protests had led to partial or full closures of Preston New Road causing frustration to businesses, residents and the emergency services, he said.
He also referred to information from the ambulance service that emergency calls had been diverted twice because of protests.
The council’s planning officer, Jonathan Haine, who recommended approval of the change, said the number of deliveries by heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) should be limited to 30 in any one night.
He said the change would result in one night of deliveries every three months.
In a report to councillors he said:
“Whilst it is considered that the proposals would not necessarily remove the incidence of road closures, it would help reduce their frequency which would be of benefit to the applicant and also to the general public including those whose businesses are affected by road closures.
“The number of occurrences of night time HGV movements would be very low and given the location of the site and nature of the roads affected, it is considered that any adverse impact on local amenity would be infrequent and not unacceptable.”
The council’s planning manager, Andrew Mulaney, said although there had been less protest activity recently police intelligence was forecasting further disruption into 2018.
- There were 31 letters in favour of the application, a 200-signature petition organised by Backing Fracking and support from the Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.
The case against
According to the report to councillors there were 75 letters of objections from the public, as well as objections from Westby with Plumpton Parish Council, Medlar-with-Wesham Town Council, two county councillors and Friends of the Earth. Five people spoke against the application at today’s committee meeting.
One of today’s speakers, Susan Holliday, who lives opposite the site, said:
“These conditions are greatly being diluted.”
Planning guidance allows for conditions to be altered if circumstances change. But Mrs Holliday said there were no new issues to justify this variation. Protests outside the site were entirely foreseeable she said and Cuadrilla had failed to raise concerns about this at the public inquiry.
“We are seeing a pattern emerging of Cuadrilla agreeing to whatever will get them approval then trying to change it later.”
“Enough is enough”
Peter Watson, who also lives opposite, said the change could bring 60 HGVs passing his home at night.
“Enough is enough. The local community have had enough disturbance and trauma. We shouldn’t allow the planning creep to a 24 hour operation.”
Mr Watson said the controls on working hours were a key condition that had been set to protect the local community from disturbance. He asked why this important change could be ruled on locally when the decision on the scheme had been decided by a Secretary of State and the conditions set by a planning inspector.
He likened the change to the amendment on flaring in the environmental permit:
“This application is an incremental change that will lead to the 24-7 industrial operation on our door step. There is an important principle involved here.”
Mr Watson said businesses supporting the amendment and fracking generally were not particularly local.
“Self-regulation of conditions”
The committee heard complaints that the traffic management plan, another condition of the planning permission at Preston New Road, was now in its eleventh version. The route taken by lorries, originally designated in the traffic management plan, was now largely decided by Cuadrilla security staff, opponents said.
Graham Daniels, who lives at Carr Bridge Park, a community of 400 elderly residents next to the site, said the change amounted to another example of self-regulation of planning conditions.
He said under the revision Cuadrilla could bring in deliveries overnight when it believed there was a threat to safety or amenity.
Mr Daniels said:
“If Cuadrilla say there is a problem, there is a problem.
“I don’t think this is acceptable. Self-regulation of conditions should definitely not be allowed.”
Mr Daniels said the problem was of Cuadrilla’s own making.
“If Cuadrilla were not carrying out these unwanted activities against the wishes of the local community, Westby Parish Council, Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council there would be no protests and no disruptive activity.”
Marcus Gallie, of Friends of the Earth, said Lancashire County Council planners should not have treated the change as a non-material amendment.
It was a material change, he said, which required a wider consultation and possibly a revised environmental impact assessment screening exercise.
“Where you have fracking, you have protesters”
Cllr Kevin Ellard, a member of the committee who opposed the change, said planning conditions were put in place to protect the interests of residents.
“Our first responsibilities as a council is to our residents so we should take these conditions seriously.”
He said the change would make things worse:
“Wherever you have fracking you have protesters. That’s the way it is because it is controversial technology.
“It is not surprising to anybody that there is a high level of protest at Preston New Road, just as there has been in other parts of the country.
“Wherever there is a 24-hour operation related to fracking there’s going to be a 24/7 operation in relation to protesting.
“Rather than make life easier for residents it will only make it more difficult.”
Paul Hayhurst, the councillor for the Preston New Road area and a member of the committee, said 24-hour protests would increase the local policing bill and add to disturbance for residents from noise and lighting.
“If you allow this today not only are you going to make life simply worse for those people on the basis that they are going to have to put up with this day in and day out.
“But you’re also going to ensure that they’re not going to sleep at night either. If you have 30 wagons turning up at all hours of the night it will mean that they will not be able to sleep.
“That is on top of all the problems they have on a daily basis whether from protesters or from Cuadrilla. People’s lives there are blighted.”
HGVs don’t arrive by magic
Another member of the committee, Stephen Holgate, said:
“HGVs don’t arrive through some kind of magic portal.
“They travel along roads that are littered with houses with residents who will be disturbed by traffic in the middle of the night.”
“Protections being eroded”
In reaction to the decision, a spokesperson for Preston New Road Action Group said:
“We are truly disappointed that Lancashire County Council has decided to approve the change to the condition that was put in place by the Secretary of State. The now means that convoys of HGVs during the night will be permitted.
“Local residents will potentially be disturbed during the night by lorries coming, going and depositing their loads of industrial equipment.
“We are seeing planning conditions and environmental permits being changed bit by bit and the protection they are meant to provide to local residents being gradually eroded.”
Helen Rimmer, North West Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:
“People will be disappointed in the Council’s decision to allow Cuadrilla to use night-time convoys of heavy lorries and the lack of scrutiny of Cuadrilla’s noise data.
“Residents are now likely to suffer further noise impacts during the night, for a fracking development they don’t even want.
“Creeping changes to planning conditions result in a fracking operation very different to the one that has been assessed.
“We urge the government to accept the democratic wishes of local communities and councils and put a stop to fracking in Lancashire.”
This report was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.