The decision on the first shale gas application in Derbyshire will now be decided by a government-appointed planning inspector following a vote by councillors this morning.
The county council’s planning committee decided by six votes to four against dealing with INEOS Shale’s second application for an exploration site at Bramleymoor Lane in the village of Marsh Lane.
The first, almost identical, application for the site will be decided at a public inquiry, due to start in June. INEOS lodged an appeal on that application with the planning inspectorate because it said the council had not made a decision in time.
A group opposed to INEOS’s plans said it was disappointed at this morning’s vote.
Carrying a banner “Keep Democracy Local”, Jenny Boothe from Eckington Against Fracking, said:
“We felt it was important that this second application was dealt with by Derbyshire County Council.
“The authority had an opportunity to determine the application and chose not to.”
Council officers had argued that processing a second application would be costly and confusing to the public. They based their recommendation on powers under planning legislation DrillOrDrop report
INEOS’s planning consultant, Turley, said in a letter to today’s committee:
“We do not consider that this power should be used at this time.”
Turley said it was in the public interest for the council to determine the second application. The letter said:
“This application was intended to offer a route whereby a speedy determination could be reached, offering both parties the opportunity to avoid or reduce the cost and delay associated with the appeal”.
“INEOS is not engaged in a strategy to consistently re-apply for the same development in order to reduce, over time, the opposition to it.”
But it said the company would consider all the legal options open to it if the council decided not to decide the application.
DrillOrDrop invited INEOS to comment on this morning’s vote and to explain what legal options were available. The company said:
“INEOS Shale has the utmost respect for local decision-making and democracy and the work of Council officers and members. We would never pre-judge a committee decision and so await the outcome with interest.”
No public speaking
Members of the public were not allowed to speak at this morning’s meeting.
At present, people will also not be allowed to speak at a meeting next Monday when the same committee will decide what view it will send to the planning inspector on the first application.
This is in contrast to Rotherham council, where councillors heard from eight speakers last week when meeting to decide its view on another INEOS appeal. DrillOrDrop report
DrillOrDrop understands that public speaking at next week’s meeting is currently “under discussion” at Derbyshire County Council.
INEOS plans for Bramleymoor Lane
INEOS is seeking planning permission for five years to construct a well site and drill a vertical well to a depth of 2,400m. Drilling, using a rig up to 60m, would take 10 weeks, working 24-hours a day, the company has said.
It also proposes to take and test rock samples to assess the potential to produce shale gas. The application does not include hydraulic fracturing. But the well could be used to monitor any hydraulic fracturing from other boreholes.
The site is on the edge of Marsh Lane, about 300m from the nearest homes. It is directly to the south of the Moss Valley Conservation Area and a Special Landscape Area.
During the 11-week site development phase, INEOS predicts daily movements of 60 lorries and up to 14 abnormal loads. The 12-week drilling and coring phase would see daily movements of 46 lorries and up to six abnormal loads.
Council officer’s recommendation
A senior Derbyshire County Council officer has said conditions on dust, ecology, highway and traffic impacts, archaeology, lighting and noise would be needed in order for the first application to be acceptable.
In a report to next week’s committee meeting, Mike Ashworth, Derbyshire’s strategic director of economy, transport and environment, said:
“I find there would be no significant impacts or conflict with development plan policy that would warrant an objection from the MPA [mineral planning authority] to a grant of permission under the appeal, provided that a comprehensive set of measures to control and limit the impacts of the development on the environment and local amenity.”
Comments on the application
Mr Ashworth said in his report the county council had processed 3,192 individual letters objecting to the proposal. Two letters asked questions and nine letters supported the scheme. An online petition against fracking in Derbyshire had more than 67,000 signatures, the officers said.
There have been objections to the application from North East Derbyshire District Council, Dronfield Town Council, parish councils at Unstone and Eckington, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Eckington Against Fracking, Chesterfield Climate Alliance, Transition Chesterfield and Food and Water Europe.
There was no objection from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Natural England and Derbyshire Highways Authority.
The Coal Authority said the site was in the defined “Development High Risk Area. Coal features and hazards must be considered, including a mine shaft close to the site’s eastern boundary.
The site is in open countryside in the North East Derbyshire Green Belt.
The local MP, Lee Rowley, who objected to the application, said there would be “unacceptable harm” to the character and openness of the Green Belt.
CPRE said the proposal would not preserve openness in the Green Belt, as required by the planning guidelines. The development would also not meet the test of “very special circumstances” to comply with planning policy, it said.
Eckington Against Fracking said a recent High Court case on Green Belt planning policy supported its argument that the application should be refused.
Mr Ashworth, in his report, said:
“The openness of the Green Belt would temporarily be materially compromised, for the period of the proposed operations.”
But he said the effect would be reversible and he said INEOS had not suggested a suitable site beyond the Green Belt boundary.
He said it would not be proportionate to judge the proposal as inappropriate development in the Green Belt and it could not be reasonable refused on these grounds.
INEOS predicted night time noise would comply with the maximum guideline limit of 42dB at nearby homes. The company said reducing this level noise would require additional mitigation that would be an unreasonable burden.
But the area’s joint environmental health service said that at this noise limit:
“It is likely the annoyance caused by the drilling noise may prevent getting to sleep in the first place and getting back to sleep if woken because the drilling noise will be more audible when background levels are low”.
Public objections also raised concerns about 24-hour disturbance from traffic and equipment and the accuracy of the company’s noise assessment.
The planning officer recommended a night time noise limit of 40dB.
Landscape and local amenity
INEOS said the landscape effects of the shale gas site would be short-term and temporary. A supporter of the scheme said the site would be screened by bushes and trees.
But Friends of the Earth said the development represented a “significant landscape and visual effect”, no matter how short a period of time the drilling rig was mobilised.
CPRE said the proposal was inconsistent with the valued landscape character. It also said it would be contrary to the local minerals planning policy because of its effects on local amenity, visual intrusion, noise, loss of tranquillity and disturbance.
Other opponents said the site was too close to homes and Marsh Lane Primary School.
The planner’s report said the impact would not be reduced to “minor” during the maintenance stage, as INEOS had claimed. The report also said an important hedgerow would have to be removed to provide the required visibility splays. It concluded that there would be substantial landscape and visual effects but they would be localised and temporary and so would not be unacceptable.
Opponents said narrow local roads were unsuitable for the traffic likely to be generated by the scheme. There were concerns about the safety of pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists. Traffic congestion was already a problem in the area, they said, and additional heavy goods vehicles would cause a major problem.
Friends of the Earth said INEOS had not considered the policy in the North East Derbyshire Local Plan which required that developments
“would not unduly disturb or detract from the visual amenity of an area by the attraction of large numbers of people or excessive traffic.”
Mr Ashworth said in his report he was satisfied that additional traffic could be absorbed into the existing road network and the significant impacts would be short-term.
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth said the application’s habitat survey had not been carried out at the best time. As a result, it omitted the value of the site to foraging and commuting bats and breeding birds. Ground nesting birds, such as the skylark and lapwing, would also be under-represented in the survey results, they said.
Other opponents raised concerns about the impact on neighbouring Sites of Special Scientific Interest and on trees and hedgerows.
The planner’s report said lapwing and skylark could be protected by conditions. It also said there should be conditions to protect badgers, bats and breeding birds. It concluded:
“I consider it unlikely that there would be a significant effect on the ecology of the site”.
INEOS said UK shale gas can “help meet objectives for lower carbon emissions”. But CPRE there was
“currently no substantive evidence to show that shale gas extraction will be other than injurious to meeting the UK’s legal requirements.”
Friends of the Earth said the development was incompatible with objectives on climate change in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The planning officer said:
“The proposal will inevitably be a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and this could be minimised through careful site design. I do not consider that greenhouse gas emissions from the development would be so significant as to warrant refusal of the application.”
INEOS has two applications for shale gas development in Rotherham, about 10km and 17km from Bramleymoor Lane. There are also sites at Misson and Tinker Lane in north Nottinghamshire where IGas started work recently.
Friends of the Earth asked the council to request a further assessment of the impact of other developments on Bramleymoor Lane.
The planning officer said there was:
“potential for simultaneous cumulative effects from concurrent development, in the event that they are taking place at the same time”.
But he said the likely timing of work at the different sites was highly uncertain and any simultaneous cumulative effects were not likely to be significant, given the duration of the operation and the distances between the sites.
Friends of the Earth said there was insufficient information on the impact on air quality. Public objections included concerns about dust, pollution from diesel fumes and leaks of methane.
The planning report said the proposal would “not give rise to any significant impact on air quality”.
The planning officer noted local concerns about lighting the site at night. He said if permission were granted it should be on condition that a detailed lighting scheme was submitted.
Public comments included concerns about disturbance, noise and dust, particularly for children at the primary school, less than 300m away. The impact of sleep deprivation was also a concern.
Supporters said the UK needed fuel independence and the development would contribute to future energy needs. Opponents of the scheme said the scheme would generate little employment for local people and would have a negative impact on tourism and leisure services.
The planning officer said:
“I [do] not consider any net economic benefit or disbenefit that the development might cause is likely to be particularly significant”.
Derbyshire’s public health department said INEOS had provided evidence of information and consultation events but there were limitations to its public consultation process. INEOS had not shown how feedback would be shared with the community and stakeholders, the department said, or mentioned on-going consultation with local communities. It also did not provide evidence of how the local community would be involved in designing mitigation measures.
According to the report, data provided by INEOS showed that 52% of local residents who took part in consultation activities rated the community engagement as poor or very poor. A further 20% said it was neither good nor poor.