The inquiry into Ineos shale gas proposals continues to hear about planning issues today..
The hearing in Rotherham is examining Ineos Upstream’s proposals to drill for shale gas in the South Yorkshire village of Woodsetts. The proposal has been refused twice by Rotherham Borough Council and opposed by the residents’ group, Woodsetts Against Fracking (WAF).
The inquiry, chaired by inspector Katie Peerless, is expected to last eight days until Friday June 21.
Today’s session is due to hear more from Ineos’s planning witness, Matthew Shepherd.
DrillOrDrop’s Woodsetts inquiry page has background, headlines and links to daily reports. Our Woodsetts timeline page has links to articles about the site. Reports from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5
These are news updates reported live and are not an official or verbatim record of the inquiry sessions. Please let us know if you spot mistakes or feel we have misrepresented the evidence.
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Key points from today’s hearing
This section will be updated throughout the day.
- Council landscape officer considers Woodsetts scheme will “probably” damage openness of the Green Belt, Ineos concedes
- CPRE says significant local impacts outweigh limited national benefits and the appeal should be dismissed
- Flawed site selection has caused noise issues at the Woodsetts site, inquiry told
- No evidence on whether alternative site access has been considered
- People were disadvantaged because they were not consulted on the barrier, inquiry told
- Impacts from the scheme will have a bigger impact on people living in Berne Square sheltered housing because of their vulnerabilities, Ineos accepts
- Ineos says there is no justification for a condition limiting lorry movements during school pick-up and drop-off times
3pm Inquiry adjourned
The inspector, Katie Peerless, closes today’s session. The inquiry will have no more hearings. Closing arguments are to be in writing (see below).
2.29pm Closing arguments
The inquiry hears that Rotherham Council and Woodsetts Against Fracking will submit closing arguments in writing by 4pm on Friday 28 June. Ineos will submit its closing arguments on Wednesday 3 July.
The inspector, Katie Peerless, says she has comments on some conditions that have been agreed by the parties. She asks for timings to be added and for small edits.
Rotherham Borough Council says it is not comfortable about dealing with the barrier by conditions. Jon Darby, the council’s barrister, says the authority regards a barrier above 2m needs planning permission. He suggests the inquiry must decide what height of barrier is needed.
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, says the inquiry will need to decide what the noise limit should be before deciding what height of barrier is required.
Woodsetts Against Fracking (WAF) asks for restrictions on the timing of heavy goods vehicles to avoid pre-school times and school traffic movements.
Gordon Steele says there is no evidence before the inquiry to support the condition. It is not reasonable, necessary or proportionate, he says.
WAF tells the inquiry many of the school pupils do not come from the village. The village child population is split equally by the road. There is data on pupil movements in the village during school times, the inquiry hears.
An equivalent condition is agreed at the Roseacre Wood inquiry.
The inquiry is reminded that the council has a duty of care to children and vulnerable people.
WAF asks for site vehicles to carry identification so that the village can monitor whether lorries are following the correct route.
The inquiry resumes at 1.35pm. A condition sessions will continue after the break.
12.44pm Review of evidence from Ineos planning witness
Gordon Steele, the barrister for Ineos, re-examines Matthew Shepherd, the Ineos planning witness.
Economic benefit Mr Shepherd is asked about the limited economic impact of the proposal. He says this could be people working on the site using local hotels. There would also be a benefit to Ineos to understand the geology of the area better and target reserves that could lead to production stages, he says.
Access Mr Shepherd agrees there is a general proposition that minerals should be worked where they occur. He agrees there is an existing access track, with suitable visibility splays, already used by tractors and trailers. Mr Shepherd says there can’t access roads too close to main roads. We are also able to improve the surface of the existing track, which may have benefits for dust.
Prejudice Mr Shepherd says noise mitigation has been very fully considered during the inquiry.
Noise mitigation Mr Shepherd says it is common to have some kind of acoustic mitigation in mineral schemes.
Noise limits Mr Shepherd says conditions that require limits below the maximum in guidelines they could be unreasonable and may be disproportionate.
Landscape impact Mr Shepherd says Ineos has considered the impact of the barrier on landscape. He says the council considers the fence could be inappropriate but against this has to be balanced the acoustic benefit. There is no objection by the council, Mr Shepherd says.
No information on the fence. Mr Shepherd says the height of the barrier is not yet known. This should be dealt with through noise conditions, he says. A smaller barrier could be considered permitted development, he says.
12.40pm Public questions to Ineos planning witness
Monica Carroll, Woodsetts parish council vice chair, asks Matthew Shepherd, the Ineos planning witness about his reference to the “short time period” of the noise barrier. He accepts that the barrier would be required during stages 1, 2 and 5.
Cllr Carroll say the parish council was unaware of the noise barrier. The majority of the village, apart from WAF, are at a disadvantage. Mr Shepherd says inquiry notices were posted around the village. Cllr Carroll says they did not mention the barrier. She says:
“Normal process has not been followed. It did not go back to the plannng board so there were no notices.”
11.43am More questions to Ineos planning witness
Jack Parker, the barrister for Woodsetts Against Fracking, cross-examines Richard Shepherd, the Ineos planning witness.
When did noise become an issue?
Mr Shepherd told the inquiry this morning that his consultancy found out that there might be an issue with noise that would need to be addressed towards the end of the second application of the Woodsetts plans.
Mr Parker puts to Mr Shepherd concerns about noise were raised by Woodsetts Against Fracking at the first application. Mr Shepherd accepts this and says he was referring to the Rotherham environmental health officer.
Mr Parker says it is not correct to say that noise issues were raised at the decision on the second application. Very many members of the public had raised this issue in response to the first application, he says.
Mr Parker puts it to Mr Shepherd that there is no evidence before the inquiry that noise impacts during access track construction could be limited to 65db.
Mr Shepherd says he would have to check.
Is there anyway that construction o the access track that could be kept within 65db at the facade of nearest homes?, Mr Parker asks again. Mr Shepherd says it is a technical matter and he is reliant on experts to guide him.
Mr Shepherd says a noise level should be agreed on that would be acceptable. The noise level would then have to be managed, he says.
Mr Shepherd says the Woodsetts Against Fracking witness had accepted noise was not a reason for refusal provided there was mitigation.
Mr Parker says this refers to stage 2 of the development. He says noise at stage 1 would be unacceptable.
Mr Parker says the application is not for mineral extraction. Mr Shepherd says it is for mineral exploration, which is considered as part of extraction.
Mr Parker says there is no economic benefit. Mr Shepherd says there would be limited benefits but the benefits of extraction could not be achieved without exploration.
There is no way for the inspector to know whether those benefits would be realised.
National planning policy
Mr Parker says the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) no longer recognises benefits of shale gas because paragraph 209a has been quashed following a high court rule earlier this year. Mr Shepherd agrees.
Mr Shepherd has referred to written ministerial statements (WMS).
You give less weight to a WMS than the NPPF, Mr Parker says.
Approximately the same, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Parker says policies that have been consulted on, as in the NPPF, carry more weight than a WMS. Mr Shepherd agrees and says WMS still has great weight.
Alternative site access
Mr Parker puts it to Mr Shepherd that Ineos has not submitted evidence on an alternative access.
Mr Shepherd agrees. An alternative access is not possible, he says.
Mr Parker says there is no evidence about why the access could not be 100m further up Dinnington Road. Mr Shepherd agrees there is none.
Mr Shepherd says site selection factors were looked at the early stage of the development. There are reasons why we would not put the access further away from the village, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Parker says if the access were relocated the noise barrier would not be needed. There is no evidence on this, Mr Shepherd replies. This would also solve the problem of harm to the openness of the Green Belt, Mr Parker says.
Mr Shepherd says it is entirely hypothetical because Ineos has not proposed an alternative access.
The noise barrier was proposed in April 2019, more than six months after the second planning application was refused.
Mr Shepherd accepts that people would have wanted to comment on the barrier at the time of the consultation stage of that application.
Mr Parker says a Wheatcroft test on consultation asks whether people would have wanted to respond and whether they were denied.
Mr Shepherd says the noise barrier was publicised on social media and on news websites. People could have commented at the inquiry, he says.
Mr Parker says the Ineos website is out-of-date and has no mention of the acoustic barrier.
You are relying on residents to check the WAF FAcebook page to check what the barrier looks like, Mr Parker says.
I don’t think that is right, Mr Shepherd says. Where else would they look, Mr Parker says.
Mr Shepherd says WAF mocked up a height barrier. You are relying on WAF, Mr Parker says. The council uploaded material onto its website, Mr Shepherd says.
Poeple who are interested will be at the inquiry or will follow it on the internet, Mr Shepherd says. Ineos is not relying on media outlets Facebook, Mr Shepherd agrees.
You are relying Woodsetts Against Fracking and the media, Mr Parker says. Mr Shepherd says people who are most interested will come here and find out about it. That is not everyone, Mr Parker says. Not everyone is interested, Mr Shepherd says.
The methods you are relying on require a computer, Mr Parker says. Mr Shepherd says they could attend the inquiry.
Mr Parker says:
There will be members of the public who would have wanted to comment on the acoustic barrier but have no idea of what is proposed and have been deprived of commenting on it.
Mr Shepherd says you cannot capture everyone. That is the same throughout the planning process.
The failure to carry out the statutory consultation during the application phase means there are people who commented on the application who may also have no idea about the acoustic barrier.
Yes, says Mr Shepherd, but the likely views of those people are probably represented by people in the inquiry.
“Deprived of right to participate”
Mr Parker says:
“It is not only about prejudice but about whether members of the public have been deprived of the procedural right to participate in the inquiry process on the noise barrier.”
Mr Shepherd says :
“I cannot believe that the inquiry is not widely known and that there have been changes to what is being proposed.”
Effect on quality of life
Mr Parker says everyone agrees that whatever mitigation is put in place there will be an adverse impact on the lives of the people of Woodsetts.
Mr Shepherd agrees but adds:
“There will be change. It will not be significant. It is capable of being dealt with by conditions.”
Mr Shepherd accepts that residents living at Berne Square will be more affected by the development than for people who do not have their disabilities.
11.40am Inquiry resumes
The inquiry resumes at 11.40am.
10.06am Questions to Ineos planning witness
Jon Darby, barrister for Rotherham Borough Council (left), cross-examines Matthew Shepherd, the Ineos planning witness (right).
Adverse noise impacts
Mr Shepherd says all three noise witnesses have accepted there will be adverse noise impacts from the Ineos development. He accepts that Ineos has not raised doubts about the council’s reason for refusal.
Mr Shepherd says the Ineos noise witness said a 3m barrier would be best practice. He says this was not required at Ineos sites at Harthill and Woodsetts. He accepts he is not aware of a barrier being required at other shale gas sites.
Mr Shepherd says the difference is the location of the site and proximity of parts of the site to residents. He agrees that the Harthill inquiry did not discuss the sensitivity of residents in the same way.
Site selection “gone wrong”
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that the easiest way to avoid noise impacts would be to move the access track or site. Mr Shepherd agrees. He says site selection included a range of issues, including geology which rules the selection process. He also has to take into account land ownership. This is how we have “funnelled down to this site”, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that noise and proximity to residents is an after-thought. He suggests that something has “gone wrong” on site selection.
Mr Shepherd says the noise issue was raised late in the second application for the Woodsetts site. It would have been dealt with earlier if it had been raised, he says.
Mr Darby says Mr Shepherd cannot blame others for the failure of Ineos site selection. The predicted noise levels were unacceptable, Mr Darby says. Mr Shepherd says he was not trying to blame others. The issue came up late.
The site is where it is and the access track is where it is, that is what we have, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Darby repeats his question: the reason there is a noise issue is the location of the access track. Yes, Mr Shepherd says.
Alternative access track
Where is there evidence of an alternative access?, Mr Darby asks. Why have you chosen this route and where is the evidence for its selection. There is no evidence for support this.
Mr Shepherd says Ineos has not presented evidence on the site access selection. He accepts that the company could have.
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that if the noise levels were left unmitigated the impact would be unacceptable. Mr Shepherd agrees.
Mr Shepherd accepts that a 3m high 270m long sound barrier is not common.
Mr Darby says not all sites, indeed in so far as you aware, require this height and length of sound barrier. Mr Shepherd agrees.
Ineos has argued that reducing night time noise limits to 35db would be an unreasonable burden. The company has said 42db should be the nighttime noise limit.
Mr Shepherd says there needs to be an understanding of cost to assess unreasonable burden. Mr Darby says it would be wrong for the inspector just to consider cost – she would have to consider benefits.
Mr Darby says all noise experts agree a lower noise threshold would be more beneficial for residents of sheltered housing in Berne Square in Woodsetts. Mr Shepherd agrees. He agrees whether a limit would be justified and proportionate.
“Absence of evidence”
Mr Darby asks where is the evidence from Ineos for the benefits of a lower night time noise threshold. There is plenty on cost, he says. Mr Shepherd says the Ineos noise witness has referred to the cost and benefit of enclosing the rig top drive.
Mr Darby asks for evidence an assessment of the benefit of all the other forms of mitigation to reduce noise. Mr Shepherd says Ineos will ask the inspector to rely on a table of cost of mitigation.
“Get out of jail free” card
Ineos has said the Woodsetts site will not produce any revenue so this had to be taken into account on unreasonable burden.
This is a “get out of jail free card” – operators of sites like this can claim that the burden on us has to be less, Mr Darby suggests. Mr Shepherd says this is part of the balance that needs to be considered.
On stacked containers, Mr Darby says Ineos has produced only qualitative statements about diminishing returns of increasing the height. Mr Shepherd says he is not qualified to comment.
Mr Darby asks where is the evidence of the benefits. Mr Shepherd says there is no evidence at that level. Mr Darby says the inspector will have no assistance.
“Noise and vibration not opposing factors”
Ineos’s planning witness, Matthew Shepherd, wrote that noise and vibration were not opposing factors in granting planning permission.
Mr Darby says adverse impacts will arise. Mr Shepherd says the phrase that this was a simple summary. You can’t have any form of development without change, Mr Shepherd says.
On all the planning issues, adverse impacts do arise, Mr Darby suggests. Mr Shepherd says there cannot be any level of development without change and some of those changes may be negative.
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that the assumption by Ineos regards the Woodsetts scheme as appropriate development in the Green Belt. Mr Shepherd says it is appropriate development.
Impact of barrier on Green Belt
Mr Darby says there has been no updated assessment since the introduction of a 3m high 270m long sound barrier. There has been landscape or visual assessment, Mr Darby says.
Mr Shepherd accepts the company did not rewrite the environment report. All the Ineos experts were aware that Ineos was considering a 3m high barrier, Mr Shepherd says. They considered the impact on their area, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Darby asks where is the evidence of a landscape assessment of the barrier. Mr Shepherd repeats Ineos has re-run the landscape assessment. A landscape professional has considered the fence and thinks it is OK, Mr Shepherd says.
Mr Darby says the landscape witness does not think it is OK. Where does the witness consider the impact on openness in the Green Belt. He considers the effect of the fence, Mr Shepherd says. Mr Darby repeats his question. Mr Shepherd points to a reference. There is no assessment of the impact, Mr Darby says.
An assessment requires an assessment of the change. There is nothing in here on it, Mr Darby says. He hasn’t done this, Mr Shepherd agrees. There is a distinction between visual effects and visual and landscape impact. Mr Shepherd says the conclusion is that visual effects of localised and temporary.
Inappropriate development in the Green Belt
Substantial weight should be given to harm to the openness of the Green Belt in planning balances, the inquiry is told.
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that Ineos has carried out the wrong planning balance for the Woodsetts development.
If the inspector agrees that the development is inappropriate because it does not preserve openness the balance done by Ineos is of limited value, Mr Darby says.
Mr Shepherd says Ineos does not consider the Woodsetts scheme as inappropriate development.
The inquiry hears that Ineos relies on the ruling Europa appeal case for a proposed exploration site at Bury Hill Wood in Surrey.
Mr Darby says the case is an authority only on two points: mineral extraction is not necessarily inappropriate and tall structures do not necessarily make a development inappropriate.
Mr Shepherd says mineral extraction could require some noise mitigation. Mr Darby says “We have agreed this form of mitigation is uncommon.” You answered no, Mr Darby says.
Europa does not provide any authority that for uncommon structures should not be considered inappropriate, Mr Darby says.
Gordon Steele, the Ineos barrister, says Mr Shepherd is not a lawyer. Mr Darby says Mr Shepherd cited this authority in the Woodsetts case and should know what it is an authority on.
The Europa does not provide authority for the proposition that uncommon structures should be considered appropriate development. Mr Shepherd says the Europa case is an authority that mineral structural paraphernalia are not inappropriate development.
Mr Shepherd accepts that the council’s landscape officer “probably” believes that a sound fence would be harmful to the openness of the Green Belt.
Wooden versus heras fencing
Mr Shepherd is agrees that a close-boarded wooden fence would be more harmful to openness of the Green Belt than heras fencing.
He says it will change the view from windows and the public right of way.
More on the Europa case
Mr Darby returns to the ruling on the Europa site at Bury Hill Wood, near Leith Hill in Surrey (see picture and section above).
Mr Darby says the case gives Ineos no assistance. This is right, he asks?
Mr Shepherd says the temporary nature and reversibility of the proposal is relevant. Mr Darby does not disagree. But Mr Darby says the Europa case provides no authority for uncommon structures in the Green Belt.
Policy support for shale gas
Mr Darby puts it to Mr Shepherd that policy support for shale gas does not constitute very special circumstance to justify a sound barrier that is required only because of a poor site selection decision.
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, objects to the question.
Mr Darby asks the question again. Mr Shepherd says there is a need to deliver this sort of development to explore for shale gas. If we can’t get beyond this, we can’t access shale gas. He says the support for shale gas does justify the sound barrier.
“The fence is necessary to deal with short-term impact arising from this development which arise between the relationship between the noise source and receptors.”
Mr Darby says the noise barrier is required only because of site selection and choice of access track.
Mr Shepherd says we have to get through to the conditions process to see what the levels will be and then there may be a smaller fence.
Harthill and Bramleymoor Lane
Ineos relied on the appeal decisions for Ineos schemes at Harthill and Bramleymoor Lane, which were considered appropriate development in the Green Belt.
Mr Darby says if these sites had been closer to homes they may have been considered inappropriate development because they may have needed a noise fence. Hypothetically, yes, Mr Shepherd says.
They are comparable developments, Mr Shepherd says. Mr Darby says they did not require a noise barrier so they are not comparable . Mr Shepherd agrees.
Your reliance on these two non-comparable developments is flawed, Mr Darby says. Mr Shepherd says in a hypothetical world… It is not hypothetical, Mr Darby says.
Mr Darby says a 3m and 270m long sound barrier was not required at Harthill or Bramleymoor Lane and the comparison of Woodsetts to these sites is flawed, he says.
Permission for the fence
A 3m fence would need planning permission. Ineos argues that this should be left to conditions of any permission for the scheme
Mr Darby says the inspector will have to consider how to grant permission for the fence. It is currently not included in the description of the application. It would be appropriate to hold this over to conditions, Mr Darby says.
How would the council lawfully grant permission, Mr Darby asks. It would be the inspector, Mr Shepherd says.
It should be dealt with now, Mr Darby says. The principle should be considered now, Mr Shepherd says, and then left to conditions.
Mr Darby says the dimensions of the fence have to be decided and the permission issue be dealt with by the inspector. Leaving it to the condition stage would be unlawful, he says. You would need another application for this fence or you would need to change the description of the shale gas application.
9.58am More evidence from Ineos planning witness
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, continues to question the company’s planning witnesses, Matthew Shepherd.
Mr Shepherd is asked about evidence given by David Sprotson, the Woodsetts Against Fracking noise witness. Mr Shepherd says:
“My recollection was that Mr Sprotson said there was no reason for refusal providing the correct mitigation was in place.”
Mr Shepherd says there is agreement on noise limits between the three parties at the inquiry. He says these should be set in the conditions, he says. A noise management plan would sort out these issues, he says.
Mr Shepherd says the height of the noise barrier should also be dealt with by conditions. We can only work out the height of the fence when we know the equipment being dealt with.
9.31am Statement from CPRE
Andy Tickle, of CPRE South Yorkshire, (above) makes a statement opposing the development.
High Court ruling
Mr Tickle refers to the High Court ruling following a judicial review by Talk Fracking. This quashed paragraph 209a of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), on support for shale gas.
He says Ineos appeal documents refer to the need to explore for shale gas. In the light of the ruling, this is incorrect, Mr Tickle says.
The inspector says paragraph 209a was removed from the NPPF yesterday.
In two related inquiries on Ineos shale gas schemes at Harthill and Bramleymoor Lane, Mr Tickle says the Inspectors concluded that the benefits in terms of ‘future energy supplies’ (Harthill) or ‘potential to improve resources for energy supply’ (Marsh Lane) which were given ‘great weight’ and ‘substantial weight’ respectively.
In doing so, they were following what was understood to be in-principle support for onshore oil and gas development, including exploration for unconventional hydrocarbons, as outlined in para.209(a).
Mr Tickle says:
In the wake of the judgment, the Government clarified the status of remnant policy, both in relation to minerals in general (in the NPPF) and relevant Written Ministerial Statements of 2015 and 2018, which remain relevant and continue to have some weight.
However, by dint of the ‘Talk Fracking’ judgment, it is now clear that – as we have previously submitted at the Harthill and Marsh Lane inquiries – should weight be given to the benefits of shale gas exploration and extraction in terms of future energy supplies, then proper consideration and weight must also be given to counter-evidence on energy security and the role of gas in helping secure the radical reductions required to meet legally binding climate change targets.
Mr Tickle says:
We are clear that shale gas development (at any stage) does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions and therefore conflicts with NPPF paragraphs 148 and 149.
Secondly, the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050, in line with the CCC’s recommendations, is now a policy imperative that must be accorded the very greatest weight in making the decision on this appeal.
Mr Tickle says CPRE agrees with the council the development, including a 3m acoustic fence (as described to date) will cause harm to the openness of the Green Belt.
“We also say that the rig and the associated site infrastructure (including hard standings, bunds, cabins) will urbanise and encroach on the area’s open character over a period of up to five years.”
Although this is temporary in comparison with built development or the duration of many mineral operations, in our view it is substantial enough to cause significant harm, it would not preserve openness and is therefore inappropriate.
Contrary to policy
Mr Tickle says:
In the absence of the in-principle support for onshore unconventional oil and gas development in the NPPF, we believe the case for very special circumstances that outweigh the impact on the green belt is also diminished, so the proposed development is contrary to Policy CS4, SP2 and national policy.
Mr Tickle refers to an appeal over an energy development at Calow which was refused. The inspector there said that, “while the proposal is temporary, in human terms it would represent a significant period of time… Therefore, the time period for which permission is sought is not a factor that significantly reduces my concerns on the harm to the character and appearance of the area”.
Dismiss the appeal
Mr Tickle says:
Combined with the arguments we make above, our concluding judgment of the planning balance for this development is that significant local impacts outweigh limited national benefits and we therefore urge the Inspector to dismiss the appeal.
Questions from Ineos
Gordon Steele, barrister for Ineos, asks Mr Tickle about his transport and planning qualifications. Mr Tickle says he worked on planning issues for CPRE for many years. He says a good point made to the inquiry remains a good point regardless of qualifications.
Mr Steele says the Calow application was for 15 years and was for gas extraction and electricity generation. Mr Tickle says his point is about the temporary nature of development.
Mr Tickle confirms he is not saying there is nothing in the NPPF that would support Ineos’s Woodsetts plan.
On climate change, Mr Steele says gas will be turned into hydrogen for heating. Mr Tickle says the transition away from gas has to happen much earlier. There is no need, given the impact on the countryside, the need to extract gas onshore in the UK.
Mr Steele suggests that a large amount of gas comes from Russia. Mr Tickle says most of the gas comes from Norway. Mr Steele revises his question to a small amount of gas from Russia. Mr Steele asks whether it is appropriate to ship gas from America. Mr Tickle says the disbenefits of onshore shale gas on the English countryside may outweigh the bridge scenario benefits for the UK. On balance, the gas should not come from the English countryside, he says.
9.30am Inquiry resumes
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