Campaigners challenge lockdown rules for council meeting on fracking plans

150623 LCC cuadrilla pnr meeting DoD

People at the Lancashire County Council meeting in June 2015 to decide Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road. Photo: DrillOrDrop

A campaign group is seeking to overturn council coronavirus arrangements which they say deny them the right to speak in person at a meeting to decide major plans to frack near Formby.

The Moss Alliance, which opposes a planning application by Aurora Energy Resources, is taking its complaint to the chief executive of Lancashire County Council.

The council has described Aurora’s proposal, which has received thousands of objections, as a major development.

It said the planning application may be decided at virtual online meetings of the development control committee in either August or September 2020.

But officials have suspended public participation at committee meetings because of the Covid 19 outbreak.

This means people will not be able to speak either in favour or against the application. Their presentations must, instead, be submitted to planning officers who will read them to committee members.

This is in marked contrast to a Lancashire County Council planning meeting in June 2015, when nearly 50 people gave presentations in one day against a similar application by Cuadrilla Resources for fracking at Preston New Road.

Altcar Moss planning application Aurora Resources 6

Photomontage of the proposed site from the Trans Pennine Trail. Source: planning application

During the Covid-19 crisis, some English mineral planning authorities have delayed decisions on contested applications. Some smaller authorities, including West Lancashire Borough Council where the proposed fracking site is based, have allowed people to speak at meetings using a telephone link.

The Planning Inspectorate, which handles appeals against planning decision, has organised virtual public inquiries using video and phone.

The Aurora application is the first fracking proposal to come before councillors since the government introduced a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in November 2019. The government said it was withdrawing support for the process after earth tremors induced by Cuadrilla’s fracks at Preston New Road.

Last week, the business and energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, said the debate on fracking had “moved on”. Fracking was “not something that we’re looking to do”, he said, adding “for now, fracking is over”.

190906 Moss Meeting Maureen Mills

Maureen Mills Photo: DrillOrDrop

Maureen Mills, chair of The Moss Alliance, a network of anti-fracking groups in south west Lancashire and north Sefton, said today:

“That objections, or even support, cannot now be presented in person, albeit by telephone link, removes the personal element that is so important to input into public meetings.

“We think it inconceivable that a decision could be taken on such a major development (Lancashire County Council’s own words) while the government’s moratorium on fracking remains in place and support has been withdrawn.

“We believe that councillors on Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee should not be put in the position of having to take a decision on this major planning application during these unprecedented times.”

190906 Altcar Moss site

Notices marking boundary of proposed fracking site, Altcar Moss, September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The debate over Aurora’s fracking plans goes back almost a year to 27 June 2020, when the company said it would be submitted a planning application to drill, fracture and test two shale gas wells on Altcar Moss, near the village of Great Altcar.

A public consultation attracted objections from 11 local councils, six local anti-fracking groups, environmental protection organisations and nearly 1,000 members of the public. More than 6,000 people have so far signed a petition against the development.

In October 2019, Lancashire County Council asked the company for more information on issues such as wellsite construction, the green belt, ecology, seismicity, highways, archaeology, climate change, noise and air and water quality.

50 pages of new material from Aurora were published on the application website in January 2020.

Aurora’s new material prompted renewed objections, including criticism from the council’s consultants, Jacobs, the government’s wildlife adviser, Natural England, and Sefton Council. Aurora sent another 60-page response last month. DrillOrDrop report

People have until Friday 3 July 2020 to comment on additional and amended information in the application.

Maureen Mills said:

“Campaigners feel that the latest response and additional information provided by Aurora is effectively a ‘brush off’, as they have still failed to address/satisfy many of the issues raised during the extended consultation process.

“The company and its agents have instead suggested that the many of the matters raised by Consultees and the council’s own advisers will be dealt with by other regulatory authorities, after the application is granted.”

DrillOrDrop invited Lancashire County Council to respond to The Moss Alliance’s concerns.

4 replies »

  1. Don’t believe anything the frackers or their backers say about their traffic light system of earthquake monitoring preventing earthquakes of a damaging intensity spreading around your Community!
    The effects of the August 2019 Bank Holiday Weekend Hydrofrac earthquakes spread further than the radius presented to the Preston New Road fracking enquiry.
    Refer to the recent DorD article about the British Geological Survey foi statements for all the true data.

  2. Correct Peter.
    When I asked, the O&GA were unable to provide me with a peer-reviewed referenced evidence-base of data to demonstrate that a traffic-light system had been used successfully anywhere else in the world..Was the TL System ‘plucked out of thin air’ ?
    However, following the 2019 Little Plumpton fracking induced earthquakes, the recent O&GA report to HM Gov warned that ”it is not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes induced by fracking.” (Reference:The Guardian, 2019).
    I hope this is helpful.

    • Plenty of room to social distance in the main council chambers even if the 2 metre rule is not reduced . The council knows from the PNR and Roseacre applications that it can take more than 1 day to complete committee proceedings and they can easily space the meeting out accordingly. There is no reason not to have the application considered in the usual way if simple proven distancing rules are put in place.
      Reading the objections out by a third party does not allow a committee member the opportunity to ask questions if he or she needs any clarification on a particular point the objector has raised. The system is designed so people can ‘have your say’. That does not mean it has to be written or presented in advance for a third party to read.

  3. A lot of systems designed so people can have their say. (Take a look at Blackpool FC in normal times.) However, Covid-19 has made many of those systems inappropriate. Yet, most people want football to restart with changed systems, and the same relates to planning.

    If climate change discussions can happen remotely and virtually, why should planning be different? I note business flights being criticised. If they are possible virtually, then planning is just another business meeting. Just think of the benefit to the environment precluding unnecessary travel! (Especially if any 3 litre diesels involved.)

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