A network of groups opposed to fracking near Formby has called for the scheme to be refused because of concerns about flooding, peat extraction, the green belt, noise, traffic and impacts on wildlife.
Consultants for the Moss Alliance have submitted a 59-page report to Lancashire County Council, which they described as a “strong objection”.
Aurora Energy Resources has applied for planning permission to drill, frack and test two shale gas wells on land near the village of Great Altcar.
The Moss Alliance’s objection, now published online, pointed to:
“Sufficient inadequacies [in Aurora’s application] and areas where insufficient information has been submitted by the applicant in order to raise significant concerns regarding the suitability of this proposal at this location.”
The network’s consultants, KVA and JBA, said Lancashire County Council, which will decide on the application, “could not satisfactorily determine that the proposals would result in no detrimental harm to the surrounding environment and nearby populations”.
A public consultation on additional information from Aurora runs until 24 February 2020. The county council has earmarked 27 March 2020 for a special meeting of its development control committee to decide the application.
Main reasons for objection
Flooding and drainage
Aurora’s plans could increase the risk of flooding in the low-lying area of Altcar Moss, the Moss Alliance said.
The site is in an area classed as a 3a flood zone, where there was “a high probability of flooding”.
All developments were meant to be directed from these zones, the Moss Alliance said, unless they were categorised as essential infrastructure and unless they passed key tests.
The network said land just 400m away from the proposed site was in a lower risk flood zone.
Aurora had underestimated the impact flooding may have on the site and had not carried out the proper tests, the network said. The company had “relied heavily on inadequate descriptions and definitions” for its flood risk assessment and had reached inaccurate conclusions.
There was also “insufficient evidence to prove that the applicant’s suggested mitigation techniques will actually work and prevent a 1 in 100 flood event”, the objection said.
Aurora had relied on flood embankments, which were prone to failure and pumping stations that could cope with only relatively small flood events, the document said. After heavy rainfall, the drainage systems may reach capacity and not allow the site to drain effectively.
The Moss Alliance criticised Aurora’s ecological assessments. They did not follow best practice or the requirements of the professional standards organisation, the network said.
Wildlife surveys were carried at the wrong time of year, were out of date or were undertaken on inappropriate timescales, the objection said. Several surveys were invalid because they were carried out in a drought.
The Moss Alliance said the application should be refused or withdrawn until the surveys were repeated to allow a proper assessment of the impact and any mitigation.
The county council should require Aurora to prove that it had “reduced to a minimum” all noise associated with its plans, the Moss Alliance said.
The company should do more to reduce night time noise to a minimum acceptable level, particularly at Suttons Farm.
The objection said the council should give “great weight to health and amenity” of those living close to the well site who currently experience low levels of background noise, particularly at night.
The Moss Alliance said the application lacked information or provided inaccurate information in its assessment of the site’s impact on local transport.
The Formby bypass was already close to capacity without extra heavy goods vehicles that the site would generate, the objection said.
Other criticisms included:
- Traffic counts were not an accurate representation of whole lorry route
- Risk of collisions when site HGVs used a hump-backed bridge over the River Alt
- Risk that abnormal loads could cause congestion and affect emergency traffic to Ormskirk children’s hospital
- Limited information on road widths and how often largest vehicles would need to access the site
- Inadequate swept path analysis
- Unclear whether two large vehicles could access and leave the site safely from Lord Sefton’s Way onto Sutton’s Lane
- No accident data for the junction between the B5195 and A565
- No assessment of impact of convoys that might be needed.
The lack of a draft traffic management plan did not allow scrutiny of practicalities, the objection said. More information was needed before the application could be determined.
The Moss Alliance said Aurora’s archaeological survey appeared to have been written “to support the application rather than protect the archaeology”.
The network was particularly concerned that peat would have to be extracted from the site to construct the well pad. This did not comply with national or local planning policies, it said.
The proposed site is close to and shared the same geological formation as the Downholland geological site of special scientific interest. Aurora should have given careful attention to the make-up of the site but it does not appear to have been done so, the Moss Alliance said.
The proposed 60m drilling rig, 37m workover rig, 13m silos and lighting columns would have “a hugely detrimental impact on both the setting of the Conservation Area and the landscape in the area”, the objection added.
Greenbelt: The Moss Alliance said the proposals would not preserve the openness of the green belt.
“As such, the developer should have to provide details of the ‘very special circumstances’ to allow the minerals development to take place within the Green Belt.”
Farmland: The site is wholly within the “best and most versatile” agricultural land, the objection said. National planning policy says this land should be avoided. There is lower grade farmland to the east of the proposed site.
Fracking moratorium: The Moss Alliance said following the government’s written ministerial statement of 4 November 2019 which imposed a moratorium on fracking, no weight should be attributed to any perceived government support for the proposals.