Live updates from Rotherham Borough Council’s planning board meeting to discuss INEOS plans for a shale gas exploration well at Harthill.
This is the first INEOS Shale plan to come before councillors. The company has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate over what it says are unacceptable delays in deciding the application.
Today’s meeting will decide on the council’s stand at the public inquiry which will rule on the scheme later this year. Rotherham council planners have recommended refusal on traffic safety grounds.
The meeting at Rotherham Town Hall is expected to hear from representatives of the company and opponents of the scheme.
Reporting from this meeting was made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop.
Councillors vote unanimously against the INEOS application to applause from the public gallery.
2.57pm: planning officer
The planning officer says the planners are recommending objection on highway and ecology grounds. Other issues are not matters that the council will defend at the public inquiry but they may be raised by other groups or individuals.
2.56pm: Cllr Alan Atkin
Speaking with emotion, the committee chair, Cllr Atkin, says:
“Our planning officers are some of the best in Britain. They have been treated badly by Ineos and, quite frankly, it’s shameful.
“We’ve got many testimonials from people up and down the country to say that our officers bend over backwards to help developers.”
2.55pm: Cllr Jenny Andrews
Cllr Andrews says the community has come together to oppose the application. It reminds me of the miners’ strike, she says.
2.54pm: Cllr Richard Price
Cllr Price says:
“I am quite shocked and disappointed by what appears to be the contempt shown by INEOS of local democracy.”
It appears that the company was seeking to bypass local democracy, he says.
“It kind of sticks of corporate greed and arrogance”.
2.53pm: Cllr Jonathan Ireland
Cllr Ireland says the roads are not suitable for large vehicles. It is not a good idea to approve this application because of the impact on cyclists and horse riders, he says.
2.51pm: Cllr Bob Walsh
Cllr Walsh says the transport issues were an issue of concern having the read the report. Having seen them on the site visit, these concerns were exacerbated, he says. He was particularly concerned about the two working farms. They would find it hard to get their equipment out and get to work.
The transport arrangements really aren’t satisfactory, he says.
“Had we been voting on the proposals I would have voted against.”
2.50pm: Cllr John Turner
Cllr Turner says he would have been minded to refuse the application on road safety grounds.
2.48pm: Cllr John Vjestica
Cllr Vjestica says during this morning’s site visit a car had to reverse 50m to allow the minibus to continue, illustrating the traffic difficulties.
He also says he shares the substantial concerns about ecology. Visual amenity is an issue, he adds. The light and noise effects from 24-hour operation would cause specific nuisance for walkers, horse riders and residents. We need to protect the green belt in Rotherham. We don’t have much, he says, and where we have it we eed to protect it.
2.46pm: Cllr Robert Taylor
Cllr Taylor says he is disappointed that INEOS has chosen to go to appeal. He said it was only a matter of time before the council had an application before it when the licences were published.
He says the INEOS traffic management plan is not enough to address the highway safety issues.
2.37pm: Cllr Jennifer Whysall
Cllr Whysall, who represents Hartill, says she has been scrupulous about not talking about this application, with the risk that people thought she didn’t care..
“I needn’t have bothered. INEOS has taken this straight to public inquiry.
“Ineos have denied public democracy. I think they have acted very badly on that score.”
Applause from the public gallery.
Cllr Whysall says INEOS has not considered air pollution sufficiently in its application.
She raises concerns about drilling in areas with old coal seams. The Coal Authority’s records are not complete, she says, because of transition between owners and intermittent working of bell pits. This area was surrounded by deep mines, she says. There are vast seams of great length.
“I wouldn’t like to take the risk of drilling anywhere into area because of the risk of hitting a coal seam. We wouldn’t know what happen.
“You can feel the [Harthill] community”.
She says she is proud to represent them.
2.35pm: Cllr Simon Tweed
Cllr Tweed, vice chair of the committee, says he is very sorry that the planning decision has been taken out of the planning board’s hands.
He says he wants to put it on record that the planning officers have done nothing wrong.
“I’m very sorry to the people of Harthill that we’re not here as a planning board, being able to make the decision.
“These planning officers, to say they delayed this application is absolutely rubbish. All they did was give Ineos more time.
“Ineos didn’t want the planning board members to make this decision.”
He says the roads around the Harthill are shocking. There is no room. It is absolutely rubbish, he says. I will be recommending that we reject INEOS’s application, he says.
The meeting breaks for 10 minutes
2.18pm: Planning officer
The planning officer says the landscape issues are not reasons to refuse the application. But he says he agrees with the statements made by opponents on traffic and ecology.
2.13pm: Kenneth Goodall
Mr Goodall talks about the INEOS company. The owner, Jim Ratcliffe, is not part of our community, Mr Goodall says.
It is a protected area, we are fighting to protect, he says. He refers to the company’s PR people who, he says, have no connection to the area.
INEOS has gigantic chemical plants at Grangemouth, he says. We will only find out in the long-term what the company intends to do. One well is only the start. He says there will be a well every three miles. The gas will be used at Grangemouth, he says.
He warns about applications by stealth. There are 7,000 wells in Pennsylvania. No one goes there for a holiday, he says. It will drive jobs away, he says. All work will be sub-contracted. INEOS has never drilled a well – it will all be sub contracted.
Applause from the public gallery.
2.10pm: Cllr Dominic Beck
Cllr Beck, the local councillor, opposes the application.
He says the committee should consider the benefit of fracking. It doesn’t employ many people, particularly local people, he says, so no benefit.
Even the potential for risk is a risk too many – no benefit, he says.
Fracking generates benefit for international energy companies and their shareholders. But the local community will see no discernible benefit. The proposal appears likely to benefit only a small number of people, Cllr Beck says.
Harthill residents fought hard against the pit closure programme in the 1980s and 1990s. Whatever happens today and after, he says, Harthill will continue to stand up for its village in 2018.
Applause from the audience
2.06pm: Andy Tickle, Campaign to Protect Rural England
Mr Tickle supports the officer’s report.
“This is industrialisation of sensitive and valuable countryside. It is unnecessary industrialisation of sensitive and valuable countryside given the sustainability need to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”
The Climate Change Act puts responsibilities on local authorities to reduce carbon emissions. Rotherham must do more, starting here.
There is no future for fracked gas in the UK’s energy mix. Even if you accept the need for shale gas, we say the impacts of the development on Harthill are unacceptable, he says.
We offer you our full backing and support at any future public inquiry.
2.03pm: Ian James, Thorpe Salvin Parish Council
Mr James says Rotherham designated the area as greenbelt – you did so, he says. The area is of high landscape value, not because someone else said so – you did.
There are conservation areas, not because someone else said so, you did. All these will be denigrated.
The speaker from INEOS kept saying “should”. It betrays a lack of confidence. No must, will.
INEOS wants to turn this area into a militarised zone as it brings in its equipment”
There will be noise pollution, light pollution, there will be diesel fumes from traffic and on site.
A 60m derrick will stand out from miles around, he says. A pressure transient test is to shake the ground to see what happens. Once you’ve done this you let the genie out of the bottle and you don’t know what will happen.
2pm: Ian Lloyd, Harthill Parish Council
Harthill Parish Council considers this to be the “most inappropriate place possible”, Mr Lloyd says. The only access is by single-track narrow lanes.
They are not wide enough or straight enough to access, he says. The lanes will become a no-go area for horse riders, pedestrians, cyclists on safety grounds alone. The area makes up 40% of our whole parish, he says. Wildlife would be driven away by noise and lighting, Mr Lloyd says.
The area has had to endure coal mining, the motorway and HS2, he says.
“Enough is surely enough.”
1.57pm: Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth
Mr Dyer supports the planning officer’s recommendation to refuse on road safety and ecology.
Serious concerns have been expressed by local people and the highways officers. Proposals to mitigate the impacts do not allay concerns. There are good grounds for conditions to be adhered to. Cuadrilla’s contractors breached the Preston New Road traffic management plan and Angus Energy was warned twice over access to a site in West Sussex.
On ecology, Mr Dyer says the surveys are deficient. INEOS has said ecology should not be a reason for refusal but how does the company know if it has not done adequate surveying he asks.
Two other sites proposed by INEOS within 10 miles. The company should have done a montage to adequately assess the cumulative landscape impact.
1.31: Lee Marston, opponent, Harthill Against Fracking
Mr Marston says the area has high landscape value. He says it provides rest and recreation for people in the surrounding towns and cities. People chose to live in or visit the village because
“This well is not wanted, it is not sustainable and it is not safe. Not one letter in support has been received by RMBC [Rotherham council].”
He says the roads near the site are not designed for large vehicles. There are no footpaths for pedestrians. People who use the delivery route for recreation or live there will be adversely affected, Mr Marston says.
Cars struggle to get down the route. Realistically how are large vehicles going to get down these roads without causing damage or worse an accident, he asks.
There is nowhere safe for people to get out of the way, he says. Bolsover Council rejected an application nearby on road safety used but that would use wider roads.
He says there are practical problems in getting equipment to the site and damage to the roads could result.
Mr Marston says INEOS has requested a traffic order over part of the route, Packman Lane. This involves road closures.
“We are very concerned about this traffic order and what it means for local residents”.
In this case there is no way to provide access to homes on Packman Lane because there is no footpath, he says.
He says there are flaws in the assessment of impact on road users. He also raises concerns about convoys. 60 minutes per visit is optimistic, he says. The timing was based on quiet farming times. What happens when people find themselves face-face with large delivery vehicles or horse riders, he asks.
The road at one point is only 7ft wide and some of the assumed widths are incorrect. One proposed passing place was assumed to be highway land when it was privately-owned. INEOS could be allowed extensions when it finds that the timings are not accurate, Mr Marston says.
A particularly sharp turn on the route would be hard to navigate, he says. This area is currently used for quiet contemplation.
“Bad data is bad data and leads to incorrect assumptions by the applicant in our view.”
Mr Marston says the company has reduced the number of exceptional loads from 85 to 44. What is the implications for the other deliveries, he asks.
The only beneficiary of the application is the applicant.
Accidents happen on local roads, he says. Vehicles have accidents on the route and get stuck. This causes grid lock on the country lanes and through the village. This could be compounded by the applicants vehicles, he says.
Vulnerable road users
The proposed route would put at risk horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians. An escort vehicle asking people to get out of the way by entering the vehicle was not practical and could be intimidating, Mr Marston says.
We are very concerned about the cumulative, Mr Marston. There are three other shale gas schemes nearby. We are 5 miles from Marsh Lane, 3 miles from Woodsetts and 6 miles from the approved Tinker Lane. We feel we are under siege, he says.
Mr Marston says there are also concerns about air pollution, including from particulates and nitrogen dioxides. The scheme would have permanent impacts on the high quality land.
The scheme is contrary to strategies to reduce nitrogen dioxide in Rotherham, Mr Marston says.
The noise survey was done in winter over two weeks. The equipment used was the same as that used at Bramleymoor, apparently at the same time.
There is no apparent to screen the site, he says. The development will have a terrible impact on people in our village. The amenity of footpaths and roads will be reduced. Even when the drill rig has been removed the site will be visible from 5 miles.
We are very concerned about the lighting of the site. The development could be highly significant for stress levels and could lead to depression and stress-related illnesses.
We don’t believe the applicant has considered the wildlife in the area. The survey was carried out at the wrong time, Mr Marston says.
Butterfly, moths, nesting birds, rare plants, nearby SSSIs were missed by the applicant, he says.
The UK is the first to drill so deeply in former coal mining areas. Drilliing is a blind process and it can’t be seen what is happening. It can and does go wrong. There are former worked coal seams and a geological fault.
“Drilling in these areas can be risk and we don’t want to be guinea pigs to see if this technology is feasible.”
Mr Marston says there are also risks from radon, methane and waste from the site.
Mr Marston urges the council to reject the application.
Applause from the council chamber
1.28pm: Debra Gibson, opponent, Harthill Against Fracking
Ms Gibson says there is no sense economically in the development. It would not support long-term community cohesion, she says
“I would ask the committee to consider the loss of visual amenity and overall wellbeing”.
She says this will affect local people and people from neighbouring towns.
“We say “no” under any circumstances to this development.”
1.22pm: Matthew Sheppard, Turley, INEOS consultant
Mr Sheppard says the company welcomes the conclusion that this is not inappropriate development in the Green Belt.
He says the company has worked hard to produce an application that meets concerns. It is a small and temporary development that will not have a significant on the local area, he says.
The company accepts that the ecological surveys were not taken at an ideal time. Consultants have proposed mitigation on a worst case scenario. The site has little ecology value in its own right, he says. He recommends councillors reject the impact on ecology as a reason for refusing the application.
On traffic, he says the largest abnormal loads had been reduced in size. He adds that there have been other adjustments. He says there are few vulnerable road users on the proposed route. There will be dedicated holding areas and delivery vehicles will be escorted, he says.
The company is disappointed that traffic was given as a reason for refusal and the consultant asks for this to also be removed.
DrillOrDrop has asked INEOS for a full copy of the consultant’s statement. We’ll insert this if it becomes available.
1.22pm: Council conclusion
The planning officer says the benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the highway safety issues and possible harm to ecology. This should be the position that the council takes at the public inquiry.
The planning officer says that in 28 years he has never seen an application that has generated so many objections.
He says many relate to the fact that the site is in the Green Belt. He refers to the appeal case by Europa Oil and Gas at Bury Hill Wood, also in the Green Belt, in Surrey, where exploratory drilling was approved.
The planning officer says the development is not considered inappropriate as long as it does not have an impact on the openness of the Green Belt. He says the rig would have an impact but it would be for a relatively short term. It is therefore not considered to be inappropriate development.
The planning officer says there have been lengthy conversations with INEOS. He says it is not considered that adequate mitigation is in place and not all vehicles could negotiate the proposed traffic route safely.
The supporting ecological information is insufficient, the planning officer says. INEOS has not demonstrate it can mitigate the harm to the surrounding environment. It may be that INEOS can provide that information and the council will accept it, he says. But the council can only consider what it has.
1.03: Planning officer introduces the item
The council’s planning officer explains that the planning board will not be deciding the application today. He adds that it is not an application for fracking.
He explains that the access problems begin when the proposed traffic route reaches Rotherham borough.
The planning officer describes the proposed phases of the development, beginning with site construction and the installation of an impermeable liner and well cellar. This was expected to take three months, he says
Stage two, the drilling phase, would require a drill rig of up to 60m and temporary lighting up to 9m. The company proposes to drill to 2.8km depth. This would be followed by a pressure test. A 32m rig would later seal the borehole. Drilling was expected to last three months, followed by two months of other operations.
The company seeks to retain the well as a listening well if a borehole at another location were used for fracking. If the well were not used as a listening well, it would be restored back to agricultural land.
1pm: Meeting opens
12.50: Councillors and the public take their seats in the council chamber
12.30pm: Opponents gather outside Rotherham Town Hall
9am: Site visit to Harthill