Cuadrilla’s plans for another fracking site near Blackpool come under scrutiny again this week.
A public inquiry on the Roseacre Wood proposals reopens tomorrow (Tuesday 10 April) to examine whether heavy goods vehicles could safely deliver to the site.
Lancashire County Council rejected the Roseacre Wood proposal because of highway safety in 2015 and the inspector at a public inquiry in 2016 recommended refusal for the same reason.
But the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, said he was minded to approve the Roseacre Wood plans if the company could overcome these concerns. He gave Cuadrilla another chance to present new evidence.
The re-opened inquiry, which is expected to last about 10 days, will consider the company’s revised traffic management scheme.
Opponents of the Roseacre Wood plans, from across Lancashire and beyond, are expected to take part in a rally outside the inquiry on the first morning. The event is due to include speakers from political parties, community groups and trades unions.
Revised traffic plans
Cuadrilla’s new traffic management scheme included two additional lorry routes, as well as passing places, traffic lights and restrictions on vehicle movements.
The company said the risk to the public remained low:
“The new multiple routes proposed will lessen impact on any one area. New mitigations, such as passing places and having no HGV movements at the weekend, the peak time of heavy road usage by vulnerable users, have been introduced to ensure maximum safety for all.”
But earlier this year, Lancashire councillors voted unanimously against this new traffic scheme. They heard that the three routes would send lorries on narrow roads through small villages, affecting a larger number of people than the original plans. The council’s highways department said the impact of the scheme on overall highway safety could be severe.
The scheme was also opposed by Fylde Borough Council and the area’s two Conservative MPs, Mark Menzies and Ben Wallace objected. Mr Menzies said:
“The company’s proposals simply cannot be reconciled with the quiet rural roads that service access to the proposed shale gas site. I am therefore clear that Cuadrilla Resources’ proposed Roseacre Wood site must not be permitted to go ahead as there are no circumstances in which it can mitigate against the unacceptable hazard that the introduction of such a large number of HGVs will present to local road users.”
The inquiry will hear evidence against the scheme from Lancashire County Council and the community campaign, Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG), representing residents and seven parish and town councils.
RAG is expected to say that Cuadrilla’s mitigation included installing 39 new passing places along the route in places where heavy goods vehicles cannot pass other traffic. It is also expected to say that the Roseacre Wood area is popular for tourism, recreation and leisure, especially cycling, running and horse riding. All of these pursuits would be directly threatened by the proposal, RAG has said.
RAG’s chair, Barbara Richardson, said:
“These fracking plans have been rejected at every level from the residents to our parish, borough and county council. We are only a small community and it has taken us thousands of hours of unpaid work and tens of thousands of pounds, but we are determined to fight this to the bitter end. We see this is an injustice and infringement of our human rights.
“We were absolutely appalled when the Secretary of State said he was still minded to approve the plans if Cuadrilla could overcome traffic problems. They haven’t managed to do this in four years, why should they have been given another chance now?
“We are ordinary members of the public who understand the harm this industry will bring to our community, our health and well-being, our environment and ultimately climate change, and we are prepared to stand up and speak out.
“Our evidence is strong and robust and, if it was just down to that, we believe we would win. Should the decision go against us, we will not stop here. We will continue to oppose the plans and will fight at every level to protect our community, and others, from harm. We will not stop until fracking is taken off the agenda.”
Dorothy Kelk, of Central Lancashire Friends of the Earth, said:
“Instead of forcing fracking onto communities and locking us into more climate-changing fossil fuels, the Government should invest in clean renewable energy technologies to power us now and in the future, and which could create tens of thousands of new jobs in Lancashire and the North West.”
“The Inquiry is being closely watched by communities across England who are facing the threat of fracking, and comes as several councils across the Midlands and the North have opposed shale gas exploration already this year.”
Kelly Jennings, a representative of Woodsetts Against Fracking, will be attending the inquiry. Rotherham Borough Council voted last month against plans by INEOS to drill a shale gas exploration well in Woodsetts village.
Ms Jennings said:
“Woodsetts, like Roseacre, is a small rural village that would be greatly affected by the proposed INEOS traffic plans. We are interested in learning how Cuadrilla have changed their plans and how communities are fighting back.
“We are horrified to learn this is Cuadrilla’s second appeal as Woodsetts share many issues and concerns regarding traffic, along with our neighbouring sites at Harthill, Tinker Lane, Misson and Marsh Lane. We are in the early stages of this process and we want to make connections with other established campaigning groups to help us fight this industry and show our support at this crucial time.
“If fracking can go ahead in a rural community like Roseacre it could get approved anywhere. Communities like ours in Woodsetts and all over England are starting to wake up as the threat becomes more real. Opposition to fracking will continue to grow as more people become aware of the impacts and take a stand against this polluting industry.”
Cuadrilla’s first site, at Preston New Road, was also refused by Lancashire County Council in 2015. But the inspector at the 2016 inquiry recommended approval and Mr Javid granted planning permission.
Work began at the site in January 2017 and there have been near-daily protests ever since. The cost of policing the protests was more than £6.5m up to the end of February 2018. The campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, said there were “grave resource implications of a second site in the Fylde”.
The reopened inquiry has a new inspector. Melvyn Middleton replaces Wendy McKay.
As in the 2016 inquiry, Cuadrilla’s case will be put by Nathalie Lieven QC and opposing her is Alan Evans for Lancashire County Council. Ben du Feu represents Roseacre Awareness Group.
Members of the public are expected to make statements during the inquiry.
What happens when?
The inquiry has been timetabled to last for about 10 days. Some details have not been finalised but the programme below is based on the latest information we have.
Day 1 Tuesday 10 April 2018
- Melvyn Middleton opens the inquiry
- Cuadrilla, Lancashire County Council and Roseacre Awareness Group make their initial statements
- Cuadrilla calls its first witness, David Bird
Day 2 Wednesday 11 April 2018
- Cross-examination of David Bird
Day 3 Thursday 12 April 2018
- Cuadrilla’s second witness, Mark Lappin, gives evidence and is cross-examined.
- Lancashire County Council’s witness, Neil Stevens, gives evidence
Day 4 Friday 13 April 2018
- Cross-examination of Neil Stevens
Day 5 Tuesday 17 April 2018
- Roseacre Awareness Group’s witness, Tom Hastey, gives evidence and is cross-examined
- Roseacre Awareness Group’s witness, Gerald Kells, gives evidence
Day 6 Wednesday 18 April 2018
- Cross-examination of Mr Kells.
- Barbara Richardson gives evidence on behalf of Roseacre Awareness Group and is cross-examined by Cuadrilla
- Members of the public to make statements (time to be confirmed)
Day 7 Thursday 19 April 2018
- Members of the public to make statements (time to be confirmed)
Day 8 Friday 20 April 2018
- Site visit
Final week starting Tuesday 24 April 2018
- Details not confirmed but to include conditions and final statements
Venue: The inquiry is at Blackpool Football Club, Seasiders Road, Blackpool FY1 6JJ. It opens at 10am on Tuesday 10 April 2018. Other sessions are expected to start earlier.
Rally: The event on the opening day is outside the football club, starting at 8.30am. Details
DrillOrDrop updates: We will be reporting from the inquiry. There is also a webcast of each day – link here