Egdon Resources, the company behind plans for long-term oil production at Wressle near Scunthorpe, said today North Lincolnshire Council had withdrawn its case against the company.
The council unanimously refused planning permission for the Wressle site in 28 November 2018 and had been due to defend its decision at a public inquiry in November 2019.
But according to Egdon, a council meeting, held behind closed doors earlier this month, decided to drop the case.
In a statement today, Egdon said:
“The Company has been advised that following a closed meeting held by North Lincolnshire Council (NLC) on 17 July 2019, a decision has been made that NLC will not be presenting evidence at the Public Inquiry and will withdraw its case in respect of this appeal subject to the agreement of acceptable planning conditions.
“While the Company considers this to be a very positive development, we still need to obtain planning permission via appeal and the Company remains focused on presenting its case for the Wressle development to the independent professional Planning Inspector in November.”
People were excluded from a section of the meeting on 17 July 2019 at which North Lincolnshire Council discussed an update on the Wressle appeal.
This alarmed local campaigners and prompted speculation on online investment message boards. Egdon shares rose more than 30% last week to 5.63p. Shares fell 10% today, to close down at 5.05p.
The Egdon statement suggests that the inquiry will go ahead on 5 November but will concern itself only with conditions. Community groups opposed to the Wressle application had been expected to make statements to the inquiry.
Andrew McLeod, of Frack Free Isle, said:
“It is very disappointing that after their steadfast opposition to Egdon’s plans for Wressle-1, North Lincolnshire Council planners appear to have thrown in the towel and will not defend their refusal decision.
“That now seems to leave it up to the activists alone to convince the Inspector to reject this unnecessary, unwanted, climate-wrecking proposal once and for all. We look forward to presenting and defending our evidence at the inquiry in November.”
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lincolnshire, said:
“This is profoundly disappointing.
“Governmental ‘directives’, leads and policies, leave Planning Authorities ‘over a barrel’.
“The oil and gas companies have the upper hand. The needs and wishes of local communities; the urgent imperatives of climate change all are subsumed to private profit motive and individual greed.
“It reminds us of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, where private companies are allowed to ride roughshod over democracy. Fear of losing legal battles and incurring costs means that our local authorities are being forced to take the line of least resistance and concede defeat.”
“It is a scandalous erosion of human rights and completely undermines everything enshrined in planning policy regarding environmental protection.”
Three-year planning dispute
This is the latest development in a long-running planning dispute between Egdon on one side and North Lincolnshire Council and local campaigners on the other.
Councillors have turned down the scheme three times and the public inquiry, had it gone ahead in full, would have been the second on Egdon’s proposals for Wressle.
The application dates back to June 2016, when North Lincolnshire Council published plans by Egdon Resources for 15 years of oil and gas production at the Wressle site. Planners recommended approval of the scheme in January 2017 but the committee refused permission later that month by 7 votes to 3.
Egdon appealed against the refusal but submitted another application in May 2017. Again planning officers recommended approval and again, this time in July 2017, the committee voted against.
Egdon also appealed against that refusal and both appeals were heard at an inquiry in November 2017.
In January 2018, the planning officer, Keri Williams, upheld the council’s refusals. He said Egdon had not shown that unacceptable adverse impacts to groundwater and water courses would not arise from the development.
Egdon submitted the third application in July 2018, saying it had addressed the inspector’s concerns.
For the third time, planning officers recommended approval but again councillors voted against. They described the evidence against the scheme as “compelling” and said the risks were not acceptable”.
Union Jack Oil, one of the partners in the Wressle site, described the latest twist in the planning dispute was “very positive”.
David Bramhill, Union Jack’s executive chairman, said:
“While this can be considered a very positive development, planning permission via appeal still needs to be obtained and the operator, on behalf of the Joint Venture partners, remains focused on presenting the case for the Wressle development to the independent Planning Inspector in November 2019.”