Councillors have rejected a revised traffic management scheme for INEOS’s shale gas site at Harthill in Rotherham – against the advice of officials.
The company’s proposals were made public within days of the start of next week’s public inquiry on the site.
INEOS has appealed over what it said was an unacceptable delay in the decision on its application to drill and test an exploratory shale gas well at Common Road, Harthill.
Rotherham Council’s planning board voted unanimously in January to oppose the application at the public inquiry. They said the proposals were unacceptable on highway safety and ecological grounds.
But as arrangements for the inquiry were being finalised, INEOS submitted changes to the proposed traffic management scheme.
The new scheme included new passing places on the proposed lorry route and the additional use of stop-go boards and banksmen to control vehicle movements. The company also dropped plans for a traffic regulation order to take control of the local road network when it wanted to bring in vehicles.
The revisions were added as an emergency item to today’s planning board meeting at Rotherham Town Hall.
The council’s highway officer, Ian Ferguson, told the meeting:
“Taking this package of measures, together with the temporary nature of the works, I have no choice but to withdraw my objection on road safety grounds.”
The board was recommended to drop its opposition to the scheme on highway safety grounds at the inquiry which begins on Tuesday (24 April 2018).
But members voted by eight to three to maintain their traffic objections.
The local councillor, Dominic Beck, described it as “shameful” that INEOS had not sent a representative to the meeting.
INEOS had said the proposals would provide a long-lasting community benefit. But Cllr Beck said:
“No it won’t. The local community don’t want more passing places because what’s going to happen for these passing places to be implemented is for ancient hedgerows, local habitats and local ecology to be depleted even further.
“The local community does not need more passing places that will be retained after the drilling has taken place. To call it a betterment is just a sop.”
He said the new measures assumed the banksmen and stop-go boards would be in place when needed. “It’s just not good enough”, he said, adding:
“I hope the inspector will see this as a desperate attempt to try to develop Harthill for hydraulic fracturing at the site that is being considered. I think it is shameful.”
The meeting also heard from Harthill Against Fracking and Friends of the Earth, who had both opposed the original proposals.
Deborah Gibson, of Harthill Against Fracking, said:
“To the community, this sounds like a desk-top discussion. We have to live with this. The changes that appellant has made make no difference to the quality of life and the usability of the roads.”
Richard Dyer, of Friends of the Earth, said:
“There is good reason to be sceptical that any planning conditions would be adhered to. It is not uncommon that conditions entered into by local authorities in good faith with the best intentions are simply ignored in practice.”
One board member, Cllr Jennifer Whysall, INEOS accused the company of treating the authority with contempt. “It is despicable, desperation”, she said.
She described the proposals as “haphazard” and an “Elastoplast”. She said the proposed passing places would be “very dangerous for a lot of people”.
Cllr Jenny Andrews said of the new scheme:
“It highlights the unsuitability of the road if they have to put in all these passing places.”
Cllr Bob Walsh was the only board member to speak in favour of the scheme. He said:
“It just about works. Because it is temporary, I don’t think we can sustain it as an objection.”
The planning board agreed that Mr Ferguson would represent their views at the inquiry. It is expected that the inquiry inspector will deal with the issue at the opening and that an adjournment is possible.
The inquiry is likely to hear from INEOS, Harthill Against Fracking, and local residents, as well as Rotherham Council.
After the meeting, Friends of the Earth said:
“Well done Rotherham Council for again standing up to INEOS, the majority of Councillors, quite rightly, were unconvinced by INEOS’ last minute, sticking plaster solutions to the major traffic impacts that this test drill will impose on Harthill. We look forward to supporting the Council’s position at the Public Inquiry into INEOS’ plans starting on Tues 24th April”.