The first INEOS shale gas site to come before a council planning meeting has been recommended for refusal.
A report by Rotherham planners published this afternoon has advised against the proposals at Harthill on highway safety and ecological grounds.
The site, off Common Road, is on a narrow single-track lane in the Green Belt and within a local wildlife site.
INEOS’s application to drill and pressure test a 2,800m well, is due to be discussed by Rotherham Council’s planning board next week (25 January 2018). But the final decision will be made after a public inquiry because INEOS has appealed over the council’s non-determination of its plans (DrillOrDrop report).
This afternoon’s report said the proposed route to the site, along narrow country lanes, was unsuitable for what it called the “significant increase in commercial vehicular traffic”.
The planners said the stated width of the some of the abnormal loads that would visit the site was greater than the distance between the boundary hedges on part of the route.
They also said the limited informal passing places on the route would not allow a standard sized car to pass a large commercial vehicle.
Rotherham’s highways unit said it could not support the application. It also raised concerns about restricted visibility, adverse alignment and lack of separate pedestrian facilities.
The report concluded:
“The development, if implemented, would therefore increase the risk of vehicular conflict with vulnerable road users and other vehicles to the detriment of road safety, contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework which expects developments to include safe and suitable access for all people.”
The report said the measures proposed by INEOS, including one-way traffic signs and banksmen directing traffic, would “not satisfactorily address the road safety concerns”. It added:
“Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders would be particularly at risk along those parts of the route where there is no verge.”
“Wildlife information deficient”
The report also recommended refusal because it said the ecological information in the application was deficient.
The council’s ecologist had refuted INEOS’s argument that the impact on wildlife would be “not significant”.
The officer raised 17 concerns about the company’s application, including a lack of a breeding bird survey, insufficient details about bats and a habitat survey carried out in January during temperatures when key species were less likely to be active.
The application did not identify ancient woodlands or nearby sites of scientific interest (930m and 1,146m away), the ecologist said. The habitat survey had not identified conservation headlands, which are useful for ground nesting birds and small mammals. Nor did it provide a plant list. The application did not give the names and credentials of the people who carried out the surveys.
The ecologist also commented that INEOS had not contacted Derbyshire Biological Records Centre. More detailed surveys of birds, badgers and bats were recommended before the application could be approved.
The planners concluded:
“The applicant has not sufficiently demonstrated that the development can satisfactorily mitigate the potential for harm to the ecology of the surrounding rural environment, contrary to paragraph 118 of the National Planning Policy Framework which indicates that if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided then planning permission should be refused.”
The planners said there had been objections from Harthill and Woodall and Thorpe Salvin parish councils, Friends of the Earth, CPRE and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
There were also about 1,300 public objections to the proposals and no letters in support, the report said.
About 70% of the objections were standard letters, while the rest were bespoke comments. Up to 40% of responses to the public consultation were from outside Rotherham borough, the planners said. But the site is on the edge of the authority’s area. The boundary with Derbyshire is less than 700m away.
As well as traffic and ecology, objectors raised concerns about fracking, noise, groundwater and air pollution, impacts on archaeology, health, landscape and the general environment, inappropriate use of the Green Belt and high quality agricultural land. People were also concerned about the High Court injunction granted to INEOS against protesters, the company’s safety record and the loss of house values.
The police raised concerns about protests including lock-ons, blockading the site entrance, slow walking in front of deliveries and occupying vehicles.
The report said there were no objections from Natural England, the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England.
Green Belt. The planners accepted that the proposed 60m rig, security fencing and equipment would have an impact on the openness of the Green Belt. But they said the impact would be temporary and the development would not be inappropriate.
Landscape. The planners concluded that there would be short-term substantial adverse effects on landscape and views. But the council’s landscape team did not formally object to the application and a refusal on landscape grounds could not be justified.
Noise. The planners said the noise from the site could potentially have adverse effects on the health of residents. But they said the drilling would be for a maximum of three months and could be controlled by conditions and monitoring.
Climate change. The report concluded:
“It is not considered that there are any specific objections to this proposal on climate change grounds.”
Cumulative impact. The planners acknowledged that there were similar proposals 10km from the Harthill site at Bramleymoor Lane, in Derbyshire and at Misson Springs in Nottinghamshire. But they concluded that the application was “a discrete proposal that could proceed independently”.
Discussion of the Harthill application at the meeting of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council planning board begins at 1pm, Town Hall, Moorgate Street, Rotherham. S60 2TH.
- Planners in Lancashire today recommend refusal of Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood application. Also this afternoon, in Cheshire, planners recommend approval of IGas proposals to test a well at Ellesmere Port. Links to DrillOrDrop reports on Roseacre Wood and Ellesmere Port