A plan to drill and frack near important wildlife sites in Sefton and West Lancashire should not be approved, the government’s nature conservation adviser has warned.
Natural England said the application by Aurora Energy Resources for Altcar Moss near Formby made unjustified conclusions about the impacts on wildlife, particularly overwintering and wetland birds.
In a response to the application, Natural England said the plans “could have potential significant effects” on five protected sites in the area.
The response also pointed out other flaws in the application:
- Bird surveys missed out key dates and did not follow suggested methods
- Assessments of the impact of noise on birds used the wrong process
- Air quality assessments did not take account of other local developments
Natural England warned Lancashire County Council, which will decide on the proposals:
“Your authority should not grant planning permission at this stage.”
The organisation said it required:
“further information in order to determine the significance of these impacts and the scope for mitigation.
“Without this information, Natural England may need to object to the proposal.”
Natural England said a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) submitted with the application was carried out by Aurora, rather than the competent authority, Lancashire County Council.
Aurora’s HRA concluded that the proposal was unlikely to have significant effects on sites of national and European importance. These include the Sefton Coast, Ribble and Alt Estuaries, Martin Mere, Liverpool Bay and Downholland Moss.
But Natural England responded:
“On the basis of information provided, it is the advice of Natural England that it is not possible to conclude that the proposal is unlikely to result in significant effects on the European sites in question.
Natural England said where significant effects were likely or uncertain then a competent authority should undertake an assessment to evaluate fully the implications.
The response from Natural England said the HRA did not consider the impact on air quality in combination with other nearby plans in the area.
Natural England did not agree with Aurora’s conclusion that there would be no likely significant effects on protected wintering or wetland birds.
“The bird surveys undertaken [for the application] are incomplete and do not follow the suggested methodology [provided by Natural England].
“The surveys completely missed out the months of December, February, March, April and May with only one survey undertaken in January.”
The bird data needed to be reassessed, Natural England said, because Aurora used the wrong calculations to assess the significance of bird species present.
The noise assessment should be also be redone because it used the wrong methodology. Mitigation measures should be included in the plans, Natural England added.
The application’s assessment of the impacts on Downholland Moss, a geological site of special scientific interest, was inadequate, Natural England said. While not a wildlife site, “there could still be impacts from the development on the site which need to be assessed”.
The response also said Aurora wrongly stated that Natural England had concluded early in the planning process that the proposal was unlikely to affect any statutorily protected sites or landscapes. Natural England said:
“This is incorrect and needs to be amended… We did not give any judgement as to the suitability of the scheme.
Natural England also called for clarification on the source of water to be used by the development.