Lancashire councillors can’t debate fracking for fear of bias accusations – leader

Geoff Driver 190523

Cllr Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council. Photo: Lancashire County Council webcast of meeting on 23 May 2019

There are no circumstances in which Lancashire County Council could have a “meaningful debate” about the fracking industry, its Conservative leader has told DrillOrDrop.

Cllr Geoff Driver said even discussing fracking would put the council at risk of accusations of bias when it decided future planning applications for shale gas.

But his stand has been strongly criticised as “risible” and “nonsensical” by a resident of the Lancashire village of Roseacre, where Cuadrilla was refused permission to frack earlier this year.

Jules Burton, a Conservative voter for 46 years, has corresponded with Cllr Driver since the issue of bias around fracking arose at last week’s meeting of the county council.

The Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding, introduced a motion welcoming government action on regulation of fracking-induced earthquakes (DrillOrDrop report). Ministers have resisted industry calls for a review of the traffic light system, which requires companies to pause operations if fracking causes seismic activity measuring 0.5 magnitude or above. This followed more than 50 earth tremors induced by Cuadrilla’s fracking at its site at Preston New Road near Blackpool in autumn 2018.

At the council meeting, Cllr Driver used procedures to stop debate of the motion at the council meeting. He argued that the item had not been sufficiently discussed and the vote should be adjourned.

190523 gv LCC

Meeting of Lancashire County Council, 23 May 2019. Photo: Lancashire County Council webcast

The motion had been revised after an official warned there was a risk to members of the development control committee, which decides planning applications for fracking. Current and future members could, in future, be considered to have pre-determined a decision on a fracking proposal, the monitoring officer said.

But Cllr Driver told us in an interview that the new wording of the motion didn’t help.

“I had to make a judgement myself on whether that changed my view that we needed to move on the standing order 44/1. I listened carefully to what Gina Dowding said and I decided, in my view, it didn’t make a difference.

“If that motion had gone through, even without the sentences that Gina Dowding said she was prepared to remove, the whole of it would have been part of the council resolution including the preamble. I contend there’s nobody who can read that notice of motion and not be of the opinion that it is passing an opinion on fracking.”

DrillOrDrop asked Cllr Driver when the motion could be debated in future. He told us:

“To coin a phrase, never say never. But I find it very, very difficult to think of an occasion where it could be.

“My view would be the same if somebody put forward a motion that was proposing that the county council write to the Secretary of State saying that these limits are ridiculous, that they ought to be increased in line with whatever was adopted in other countries in the world that are getting involved in fracking, if somebody had put that motion forward I would also have moved standing order 44/1.”

Asked whether there were any circumstances in which the council could debate a motion on fracking, without the risk of predetermination, Cllr Driver said:

“I can’t think of an occasion when it would be possible to debate a meaningful motion on fracking without running the risk of pre-determination.

“You can debate a motion about fracking in a general sense but once it comes to inviting the council to agree with something that is related to the fracking industry it becomes very difficult then and in my view would be more likely than not to run the real risk of predetermination.”

He said he feared a motion on fracking could lead to appeals against the council in future.

“When the development control committee considers [a planning application], they have to be, and have to be seen to be, absolutely impartial.

“If Gina Dowding’s resolution had been carried, at some stage in the future, somebody could have applied to drill or to frack and if it had been turned down for what the development control committee considered to be perfectly valid reasons the applicant could appeal and probably would appeal and would well use the fact that there’s a resolution of the council.

“You can imagine the lawyers that these fracking companies engage are top quality lawyers, you can imagine the legal argument that would proceed.”

Cllr Driver also said he believed there could not be a meaningful debate if members of the development control committee, who knew the most about fracking, could not participate.

We asked him whether he thought this restriction on debate was a problem for democracy. He replied:

“Not at all, absolutely not. It is actually harmful for democracy if the county council starts passing resolutions that make it difficult for those bodies, in this case the development control committee, who are charged with a quasi-legal responsibility, if they are hindered in that. That is a denial of democracy.”

“Logic of the playground”

But his position has been rejected by Jules Burton, who has lived in Roseacre for 19 years and sought a judicial review against the government’s decision to reopen the public inquiry on Cuadrilla’s fracking plans in the village.

Mr Burton described the council leader’s view as “nonsensical”:

180419 RW inq 4 Jules Burton

Jules Burton speaking at the Roseacre Wood inquiry on 19 April 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

“To suggest that a body, elected by local residents, could be considered undemocratic if it allows meaningful debates is clearly risible.

“I would expect that logic from the playground. For it to come from an elected official displays a breath-taking and alarming arrogance. It is obvious that Councillor Driver feels a greater allegiance to the Tory party than to those who elected him.”

Mr Burton said all people inevitably hold opinions on a range of subjects.

“If the matter under consideration is in any way contentious, the views will tend to be more polarised.

“Councillor Driver maintains that since any member of the Council could at some point be appointed to the development control committee, no debate can take place for fear of displaying a preference.

“He appears to ignore or be unaware of the fact that all development control committee determinations must be governed by planning law.

“This is why it is immaterial if residents state that they don’t want development because they don’t like it, don’t trust it, or are concerned about what effects it may have. These are not grounds for objection, any more than wholesale approval would guarantee acceptance. Opinions must be backed up by evidence which is supported by planning guidance and law.”

Mr Burton said people in a position of trust are presumed by their office to operate without fear or favour.

“It does not matter what personal views on a matter are held, whether published or not. It would be of no consequence if the most avid and active anti-fracking advocate were on the development control committee.

“If planning law stated that, despite any personal objections, it was perfectly legal for a company to continue to frack regardless of consequence, there would be no legal grounds for that member to prevent the company’s operations. Objections could be placed on record but that would be the limit of options available.”

Guidance on pre-determination

Government guidance on pre-determination states:

Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011 clarifies that a member is not to be regarded as being unable to act fairly or without bias if they participate in a decision on a matter simply because they have previously expressed a view or campaigned on it.

“Members may campaign and represent their constituents – and then speak and vote on those issues – without fear of breaking the rules on pre-determination. Members may also speak with developers and express positive views about development.”

The guidance makes a distinction between pre-determination and pre-disposition. It says:

“Members must not have a closed mind when they make a decision, as decisions taken by those with pre-determined views are vulnerable to successful legal challenge.

“At the point of making a decision, members must carefully consider all the evidence that is put before them and be prepared to modify or change their initial view in the light of the arguments and evidence presented. Then they must make their final decision at the meeting with an open mind based on all the evidence.”

15 replies »

  1. Astonishing retro logic, Cllr Geoff Driver cant discuss in council anything about fracking that might bias his point of view in case it predisposes his position in the event of an application or appeal……ever……

    Obviously not a fan of Drill or Drop is he.

    But perhaps the real question is, what does Cllr Geoff Driver discuss outside of council which may have predisposed his position in the event of an application or appeal. What has he all ready discussed that may have predisposed such a position? How is that to be assessed?

    Who polices that. How is that measured…..who measures Cllr Geoff Driver’s opinion on anything in case it predisposes his bias one way or the other on any council matter?

    Cllr Geoff Driver is a conservative voter it says, does that predispose him to any stance one way or the other in any application or appeal for anything at all?

    Would you like tea or coffee Cllr Geoff Driver? Do you say that you cant say because it might predispose your position towards a decision one way or the other?

    If anyone thought the Ostrich with its head in the sand was a myth, then go and look in Lancashire County Council.

    At least Cllr Geoff Driver will be in the appropriate posture to receive the fossil fuel operators application or appeal anyway?

      • Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, its Sunday again, and it is the 34th Sunday since fracking was resurrected by Cuadrilla and then suffered from its own agreed TLS limit of 0.5 and then seems to have withdrawn into the shadows again.

        Well well, or not so well well, if you see what i mean, this last Friday was the last day of May, and next Friday will also be the end of May? Two last days of May in a year? Was that a hard or a soft resignation? Did she fall or was she pushed?

        Curious that Theresa Mays resignation came just after the revelation that it was not the Russians that were interfering in USA elections, but it was Theresa Mays UK government? And now we see it is China that is being demonised, (my spell checker says “demonetise”) they have to dangle an alternative scapegoat in front of us dont they.

        “Look at that over there, isnt that terrible? Dont look here we are just innocent victims like you”. Yeah, right!

        There is something interesting about the posts we see from the anti antis these days, arent there, they never mention people, unless it is in derogatory terms, it is just about money, costs, regulations and who benefits or pays financially? There was a comment recently about USA making protest against fossil fuel operations to be a criminal offence and classing all fossil fuel operations and associated activities as “critical infrastructure”?

        Finance, business and exploitation of the planets natural resources has no legal penalty in regards to the planets ecology or survivability, and yet it is the planet itself which is the only “critical infrastructure” and yet there is no law to protect it, none at all.

        Polly Higgins died recently having dedicated her life to making ecocide a criminal offence similar to murder and that fight will continue.

        There is a long way to go yet, and many of us have been saying so for years, but now with the Extinction Rebellion movement and the children’s movement for climate change action, we have the stage and the impetus and the motivation to make real change and change we must, regardless of the insane suicidal inertia to keep things exactly as they are thank you very much.

        What we must watch out for above all, is the corporate highjacking of these present movements for their own agendas, if you think such interests are not watching and calculating how it can be manipulated, you have not been paying attention.

        This is Pink Floyd which says a lot about the present inertia and the total lack of any concern or legal requirement to do anything about further climate degradation and the sixth major extinction event on planet earth.

        “On The Turning Away”

        On the turning away
        From the pale and downtrodden
        And the words they say
        Which we won’t understand
        “Don’t accept that what’s happening
        Is just a case of others’ suffering
        Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
        The turning away”

        It’s a sin that somehow
        Light is changing to shadow
        And casting its shroud
        Over all we have known
        Unaware how the ranks have grown
        Driven on by a heart of stone
        We could find that we’re all alone
        In the dream of the proud

        On the wings of the night
        As the daytime is stirring
        Where the speechless unite
        In a silent accord
        Using words you will find are strange
        Mesmerized as they light the flame
        Feel the new wind of change
        On the wings of the night

        No more turning away
        From the weak and the weary
        No more turning away
        From the coldness inside
        Just a world that we all must share
        It’s not enough just to stand and stare
        Is it only a dream that there’ll be
        No more turning away?

        Have a great Sunday with family and friends and perhaps think of what we need to change in ourselves and not let everything just be degraded into some corporate vested interests agenda, and how we are all ready seeing just that being played out now.

      • This is an interesting DW documentary.

        Its a journey into the future world of our great-grandchildren a DW Documentary, and deals with the personal aspect of human centred thoughts towards the future of a grandchild and the impacts of climate change that could be prevented now, if only we could just wrap our minds around what we have to do. it is a rather gentle and thoughtful documentary and quite appropriate for our Sunday reflections.

        There is a interesting section on a test of peoples reactions to investing in a future that answers the threats of climate change, and how people react to that an how we are still not mentally prepared to deal with it, i am sure we all feel that, no matter what stance we take.

        A journey into the world of our great-grandchildren – DW Documentary part 1 of 2, the second part will be aired on June 8th, the day after the end of May….



  2. Good to see Councillor Driver recognises reality, and common sense..

    “Operate without fear or favour”. Really? Why the demos outside of meetings and within the audience?

    Unless DoD has been reporting inaccurately from Planning Meetings do we not recall decisions being made and then subsequently “reasons” for those decisions being cobbled together?

    • “You can imagine the lawyers that these fracking companies engage are top quality lawyers, you can imagine the legal argument that would proceed.”

      Any lawyers who understood planning law would realise that there would be no legal argument. The Government has made a decision to keep the threshold to 0.5M. There is no reason why that decision cannot be discussed and either welcomed or rejected by a council. The decision on whether a planning application is to be passed or refused is only arguable on material planning grounds. I am sure the Council meets to discuss and decide through the democratic process a wide range of Government proposals.

      The suggestion by him that no debates on any controversial subject should take place for fear of pre determination is complete nonsense.

      • According to Cllr Driver logic nothing regarding fracking should be discussed within the council as it could result in pre determination.

        When a pre planning or full application is received a planning officer is assigned and may well contact the applicant to discuss and advise on the application. That would be the officers statutory duty.

        When Andrew Mullaney, LCC head of planning and environment, was invited to a secret conference that was sponsored by Dow chemicals and Haliburton he had no statutory duty to attend. He chose to go using tax payers money.

        In keeping with his stance maybe Cllr Driver should suggest to the head of LCC that Andrew Mullaney may have a bias towards supporting fracking applications and should be replaced.

    • Good to see Councillor Driver recognises reality, and common sense.. eh Martin? As we are only interested here about the reality of planning predetermination and not some random distraction or red herring, could you explain which ‘reality’ with direct reference to government guidance on pre-determination – as very usefully quoted in full.

  3. Sadly decisions taken by County and Borough Councils that don’t suit the present Tory government regarding planning and fracking are simply overruled by an appointed Inspector or Government Minister.
    Examples being Preston New Road fracking site and residential developments at nearby Warton, both in Lancashire.

  4. Chapter 6 of The Localism Act 2011 says (and I quote): ‘Prior indications of view of a matter not to amount to predetermination’.
    There are exceptions such as individual councillors having had a closed mind on an issue. But for all other councillors it seems ok.

  5. save the planet bull sht its just an excuse to charge us more for everything its a stealth tax & you idiots are promoting it. Tell me where is all this money spent doing what exactly to save the Planet ? can,t answer can you . because not a penny of it makes any difference to the climate at all. the only difference is were paying more.

    • ‘the only difference is were paying more.’

      UK shale would have been far more expensive than home grown North sea gas.
      UK shale would have been far more expensive than Norweign piped gas.
      UK shale would have been more expensive than LNG.

      Bloomberg, EY, OIES, and UK gas investors Centrica indicate that UK shale is not viable.

      A good job the UK shale gas start up companies have failed to ‘start up’ or we would all be paying more for a new intermittent dirty fossil fuel which is neither needed (as the Government tells us) nor wanted (as the majority of the public have stated)

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