Planners are recommending Rotherham council withdraws its objection to Ineos’s shale gas site at Woodsetts on highways grounds.
They say the council should continue to oppose the development at a public inquiry later this year because of noise and disturbance.
The recommendations are to be discussed at a meeting of the council’s planning board next week.
The campaign group, Woodsetts Against Fracking, which is due to give evidence to the inquiry, said:
“this feels like a huge betrayal of the community who have worked so hard to raise funds and build a case to fight Ineos at inquiry. It now seems that the council is prepared to leave us high and dry to fight the traffic argument on our own.”
The Rotherham planning board voted in September 2018, against the advice to planning officers, to refuse the Ineos scheme. The company is seeking to drill and test an exploration well into the Bowland Shale. It appealed against the refusal and an eight-day inquiry is due to start on 11 June 2019.
Reasons for refusal
The grounds for refusal were:
- Increased numbers of heavy goods vehicles would cause unacceptable highway safety issues for pedestrians, cyclists, children, the elderly and horse riders
- Noise and disturbance to vulnerable residents living next to the proposed access track.
But a report from planners published online said:
“officers recommend that Planning Board withdraw the highway reason for refusal as a ground for resisting the appeal.”
The recommendation had been backed by the barrister who is due to represent the council at the inquiry as “both pragmatic and appropriate”.
The council’s highways department had also said there were “significant difficulties” in defending the appeal on highway safety grounds.
The report said the council sought to employ traffic consultants to argue its case. But, of those approached, only one was prepared to provide expert evidence. The planners said they did not consider this evidence was “sufficiently robust” to defend the decision and it would come “at a significant cost” to the council.
On the second ground, noise and disturbance to people living in Berne Square, the planners said:
“Officers recommend that this ground for resisting the appeal is maintained.”
“Betrayal of local democracy”
In a statement this afternoon, Woodsetts Against Fracking, responded:
“Rotherham’s transport planning officers appear to be totally out of their depth and unwilling to abide by the decision of their elected members by defending a decision arrived at to protect the local community and vulnerable road users.
“If councillors vote on Thursday [14 march 2019] to overturn their original decision, it will be a betrayal of the community they serve, but more than that, it will be a betrayal of local democracy.
“What we have here, is the tail wagging the dog. We urge our elected members to sustain their support for us against this dangerous and damaging development and to fight alongside us on all fronts, at public inquiry.”
Woodsetts Against Fracking has Rule 6 status at the inquiry, which allows it to call and cross-examine witnesses.
It said it had been working since September to raise money for a legal team and to prepare a case for public inquiry.
Its transport witness is Gerald Kells, who argued against Cuadrilla’s traffic scheme for Roseacre Wood at an inquiry in April 2018. The Roseacre Wood scheme was refused on highways grounds by the local government secretary last month.
Two refusals of Woodsett shale gas plans
The September 2018 decision on Woodsetts was the second time Rotherham Council refused planning permission for the proposal.
The first application was refused on 8 March 2018, endorsing the then recommendation of planners. Ineos submitted a second, almost identical proposal, which was refused by councillors for a second time six months later.
This is also the second time that Rotherham’s highways officer has withdrawn his objection to an Ineos scheme before the opening of a public inquiry.
In April 2018, he told the planning board he could not support the objection to the Ineos site at Harthill.
Despite this, councillors voted to defend its decision to refuse planning permission on traffic grounds. The company’s appeal was allowed after an inquiry and planning permission was granted.
- Next week’s planning board meeting is at 9am on 14 March 2019 at Rotherham Town Hall, Moorgate Street, Rotherham S60 2TH. Agenda