Live updates on the meeting of Cheshire West and Chester Council discussing IGas’s planning application to test the flow of a gas well at Portside North, at Ellesmere Port.
Council officers have recommended the application for approval. The meeting is expecting to hear from supporters and opponents of the plans.
Opponents have said the council should have required an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the operation should have a groundwater permit. They are also concerned about air pollution, the impact on other local industries, water contamination, seismic events, impacts on wildlife and the level of consultation carried out by IGAs.
Committee votes 10-1 in support of the motion to refuse the application.
5.35pm: Cllr Alex Black, committee chair
Cllr Black says any concerns from statutory consultees have been met by conditions.
5.31pm: Fiona Hore, senior manager, planning ans strategic transport
Ms Hore says members are clearly not happy with the application. The visual impact of the rig would be difficult to defend, she says.
Ms Hore suggests a reason for refusal would be that the application does not meet local planning policy on climate change and renewable energy.
Applause from the public gallery.
Ms Hore advises against including deficient consultation as a reason for refusal.
Cllr Gill Watson says this application has stressed a lot of people about its cumulative effects.
Ms Hore says the application has clearly caused distress and anxiety but this is hard to defend as a reason for refusal.
5.29pm: Cllr Eleanor Johnson
Cllr Johnson says there are reasons to refuse in the report: the visual impact of the rig, the impact of noise and air quality on the surrounding area.
Rob Charnley, planning officer, says the report explains how those impacts could be mitigated and takes account of the duration of the impact.
Cllr Johnson says the workover rig would be there for quite a proportion of the time that the site would be investigated.
5.28pm: Cllr Jill Houlbrook
Cllr Houlbrook says a lot of people opposed the application because they don’t trust the agencies that they are being passed on to. Given their records in the past, there is a good reason for them not to trust, she says.
5.25pm: Pamela Chesterman, legal officer
Ms Chesterman says the application looks at an alternative to coal use. If it truly displaces coal, then it would address climate change.
Past behaviour of applicants is not something you can consider, she says. Where another authority takes over, we have to trust that they will do their job, she adds.
5.23pm: Cllr Eleanor Johnson
Cllr Johnson asks whether Natural England has been onsite or just done a desk assessment. She knows of mistakes acknowledged by Natural England. I would hate this to go through on a mistake, she says. If there is a mistake it will be too late.
5.17pm: Cllr Jill Houlbrook
Cllr Houlbrook says
“Our residents and communities across the world have turned themselves into experts because they are so concerned about drilling on land.
“There are people in this room who know exactly what they are talking about. We have expert information coming out of our ears.”
“If we are looking for reasons to refuse, the local plan requires oil and gas developments to address climate change and to make the best of the opportunities for renewable energy. This application doesn’t.”
She says there is nothing about renewables in the application. It is all about extracting things out of the ground that can never be replaced.
5.18pm: Pamela Chesterman, legal officer
Ms Chesterman says most activities will have an impact. From a legal requirement, there are thresholds that must be met before an EIA can be required and this application did not meet them.
The Supplementary Planning Document on oil and gas does encourage consultation but the applicant has done everything that was required, she says.
The environmental permit for the site has already been granted, she says. There is nothing from a legal perspective that the local authority can use at this stage to refuse the application.
5.17pm: Fiona Hore, senior manager, planning ans strategic transport
MS Hore says there are no sound land-based reasons to warrant an objection to this application.
She says councillors have to balance their role as members of the planning committee and elected representatives.
5.16pm: Cllr Gill Watson
Cllr Watson says people are worrying and objecting with great force. We need to listen to that, she says.
5.12pm: Cllr Chris Whitehurst
Cllr Whitehurst says he is struggling on the planning reasons to refuse the application.
He says there are statements in the officer’s report that there will be an impact for a limited period. If damage is done over one day or one minute we don’t know what the impact will be, he says.
He asks how much it would cost for the council to do an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Don’t we owe that to the residents of Cheshire West, he says.
Planning officer, Rob Charnley, says the council and the Secretary of State don’t think the development needs an EIA. It isn’t for the council to do the EIA, he says.
We have consulted with everyone we need to. No one has said there are going to be significant impacts, he says. We have to accept there are going to be impacts from development. But we think they can be mitigated by conditions.
5.09pm: Cllr Norman Wright
Cllr Wright says he is concerned about the effect on air quality.
“I don’t think we should approve this and I will be voting against it. We shouldn’t inflict this on the residents of Ellesmere Port.”
5.08pm: Cllr Peter Rooney
Cllr Rooney wants to know what impact the chemicals that will be pumped under the area where he lives would have on the water courses.
Rob Charnley, planning officer, says this is an issue for the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. They would look at what chemicals would be used and how the environment would be protected.
5.07pm: Cllr Keith Board
Cllr Board says:
“This is not the right site for this type of activity and he is currently against it.”
5.03pm: Cllr Gill Watson
Cllr Watson says she is very concerned about the lack of consultation on the application. There has only been one event and leaflets distributed for that event, she says. That’s not substantial enough to concur with our Supplementary Planning Document, she says.
“We don’t know what we don’t know and that concerns me.”
The lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment is her biggest concern, she says.
Planning officer, Rob Charnley, says the Secretary of State supported the council on its decision that the development does not need an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Natural England has not objected to the application, Mr Charnley says.
5.01pm: Cllr Brian Jones
Cllr Jones says he has concerns about the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment, an emergency plan and a groundwater permit. He is also concerned about the risk of earthquakes. He says:
“The application is not for fracking but I believe it could lead to it.
There are untold risks with this and I can’t support it.”
4.59pm: Cllr Eleanor Johnson
Cllr Johnson says she has concerns about visual impacts of the development and its impact on air quality and the nearby Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“It will be necessary for a Cheshire West and Chester Council officer to be on site at all times if the application were approved with conditions.
“We don’t have an officer to be on site at all times, she says, so I will be seconding the proposal to refuse.”
4.57pm: Cllr Jill Houlbrook
Cllr Holbrook says the application “just feels wrong”.
She says she will move refusal on the grounds than an Environmental Impact Assessment was not carried and because of the economic impact on the area.
4.52pm: Cllr Pat Merrick
Cllr Merrick, the local ward councillor, tells the committee she has represented the area for 20 years. She says the population has doubled recently, with most of the new homes close to the proposed site. She says:
“The people of Ellesmere Port are sick of the area being the dumping ground for the rest of Cheshire.”
She urges the committee: Please do not expect us to have our concerns on the issue of local public health, dismissed by experts.
We’ve had 1,400 written objections to this application and three MPs have objected, she says.
“Ellesmere Port has had enough. We do not want fracking or shale gas extraction. Call it what you want.”
We all know this is part of the process that leads to fracking, she says. She urges the committee not to liken the US or Australian experience to what would happen here.
“We are a highly populated country. The proximity of this site to our homes is too close.”
4.49pm: Cllr Brian Crowe
Cllr Crowe says the recommendation to approve is inevitable because of flaws in the council’s planning policy. Unless this is fixed quickly, the area will be inundated with similar applications, he says.
He says on oil and gas exploration, the council should presume to not be in favour unless environmental, health, insurance and community benefits are assessed and spelt out up front. The local community should share in the benefit.s The onus is on the applicant to show they have the community’s best interest at heart, he says.
“If this is not the case with this application, throw it out”.
4.45pm: Non-committee members – Cllr Ben Powell
Cllr Powell says the decision is for the committee. He says: “The recommendations are fatally flawed and approving the application would be contrary to local and national policy and open the council to legal challenge.”
He raises concern about the proposed agreement between IGas and Peel Ports over a neighbouring explosives facility. Under the proposal, IGas would stop operating when the facility wanted to undertake some incompatible work.
But Cllr Powell says the application is for three years.
“You are asking to put development on hold for three years for an area that has been attracting new business.”
The development would lead to few new jobs. Passing this application would have a devastating impact on the local economy, he says.
“It will be a message that this area is closed for business. That in itself should be enough to reject the application.”
4.40pm: Non-committee members – Cllr LynnRiley
Cllr Riley says the consistent message from the speakers is the consultation has been inadequate. There are more questions than answers.
She says this application would have been a good opportunity for a referendum. She says:
“We’ve argued to strengthen the policy on giving local people a voice. Local people are the experts in their area.”
Cllr Riley says flaring for 88 days would take place alongside one of busiest stretches of motorway in the north west. The sections of motorway are notorious for accidents, she says. The site drops away from the motorway at this point so the flaring is going to be taking place at eye level.
There is a very significant RAMSAR wildlife site on the estuary, she says. There are birds of international importance. Birds are being displaced by a windfarm, she says. There is going to be a dispersal impact of this application.
There’s been significant development in the area. Lots of new business and jobs and housing have come to the area. The absence of an emergency plan has to be considered, she adds.
“More consultation is needed and before that happens I don’t see how you can approve this scheme.”
4.34pm: Non-committee members – Cllr Matt Bryan
Cllr Bryan says oil and gas applicants are required by planning guidelines to consult local people at the earliest stage.
The initial stage of this development has bypassed the planning process and evaded consultation, he says. The application should be refused for not complying with the planning process.
There is no environmental impact assessment (EIA), he says. Extended well tests would normally be subject to an EIA. This hasn’t been insisted on, he says.
We have a Site of Special Scientific Interest 200m away and this should mean an EIA should have been carried out to test the impact on it. The application should be refused because it does not comply the EIA regulations,he says.
The proposed flaring is not low-carbon or compatible with local and national climate change policy, Cllr Bryan adds..
We don’t know enough about this application. He adds that the area already suffers from some of the highest levels of illness.
4.32pm: Statement from Cllr Stephen Smith, non-committee member
The statement calls for the rejection of the application. He describes it as “pivotal”.
There is not enough information on the volume and make-up of waste, he says. There should be borehole monitoring. There should be an emergency plan.
He regards this as in contravention of local planning policy. The majority of residents want the application to be rejected.
He calls for the application to be rejected and the paper used to print it to be recycled.
4.29pm: Cllr Andrew Dawson
Cllr Dawson says:
“This is the last site I would ever think of for an exploration site.”
There is a potential impact on an explosive facility nearby. If something goes wrong, what will happen, he asks. The wider communities of Cheshire and Merseyside would be affected.
“As far as I’m concerned this shouldn’t get consent.”
He says the council’s Suplementary Planning Document is a “fracker’s charter”
“I don’t think this site is suitable for this sort of development.”
4.24pm: John Blaymires, chief operating officer of IGas Energy
Mr Blaymires tells the committee the original well was drilled in 2011.
The company is applying to test the well for commercial gas production. The application is not for fracking and it is not seeking to test shale gas. The target is in the Pentre Chert.
The UK and the Ellesmere Port area relies on gas for energy and raw materials, he says.
The application complies with local and national planning policy. Permits for the development have been issued in 2017 by the Environment Agency, he says. There have been no objection from statutory consultees.
“Members of the committee can be confident the development will be conducted safely and in accordance with regulation.”
4.20pm: Opponents of the application – Felicity Dowling
Ms Dowling is a former teacher in Ellesmere Port. Given the density of industry in that area, how will bringing in another hazardous industry possibly be safe, she says.
The proximity to mining, salt, the ship canal and chemicals will not be safe, she says.
It is an industrialised area with many hazardous sites. It would be wrong to risk those industries with this application, Ms Dowling says.
This is an area of major hazards. It would be wrong to risk further hazards, she says.
We know that fracking can cause earthquakes or smaller tremors. The ship canal nearby is not earthquake-resistant. That risk should be looked at seriously.
We think there has been human error and deliberate flouting of safety regulations, Ms Dowling says.
“For the children of Ellesmere Port, I think it is really important that this stops.”
4.16: Opponents of the application -Polyanna Steiner
Ms Steiner, speaking for Friends of the Earth, says the application does qualify as fracking. IGas proposes to use 1,200m3 of liquid in the flow test, which passes the volume limit in the Infrastructure Act.
The company has neglected to give details on the process and this makes the application incomplete, she says. This makes the application inconsistent with planning policy.
The application should also require a groundwater permit, she says.
People living within 600m will be exposed to flaring, venting and extra heavy goods vehicles.
The applicant fails to account for extra greenhouse gas emissions, including from 88 days of flaring, she adds
4.13: Opponents of the application – Jed Isaac
Mr Isaac says he lives 700m from the site. He is a member of Ellesmere Port Frack Free.
He says the community has not been dealt with with respect. People are worried about the impurities in shale gas and the impact of pollution from the site.
He says the gas will be used in the production of plastics at a time when we have to commit to reduce its use.
He asks the committee to respect the community and reject the application. If it doesn’t the community will continue to object, he says.
He urges the committee to “be planners for a better future”.
4.09pm: Opponents of the application – Colin Watson
Mr Watson is speaking for Ellesmere Port Frack Free. He tells the committee is a chemical engineer with 35 years experience.
There has been no environmental impact assessment for the site, he says. This should be carried out under council policy. There is no detail of the chemicals to be pumped into the well.
The company says the application is not for fracking and so it avoids fracking regulations. But it will disturb the shale, Mr Watson says.
There is no emergency plan to support any permission. I ask you to consider the impact on the 5,000 people living within a mile of the site, he says.
You have been provided with insufficient information, he says. There have been a great many breaches of planning permission, he adds.
4.05pm: Rob Charnley, planning officer
The planning officer tells the meeting that IGas has promised to vacate the site if a nearby explosives facility wished to carry out work that might be constrained by the exploration wellsite.
He says additional information on air quality has been submitted. It does not change the planners’ recommendation.
IGas has given extra information on its consultation programme, the planning officer says.
4pm: Meeting opens
Cllr Alex Black opens the meeting
3.30pm: Opponents outside Cheshire West and Chester Council
3pm: Opponents march to Cheshire West and Chester headquarters
26/1/18 Vote to refuse corrected from Unanimous to 10-1