Opponents of fracking near Formby are seeking help from their MP to overturn Covid-19 lockdown arrangements at a council meeting.
The Moss Alliance had asked Lancashire County Council to review its suspension of direct public participation in the development control committee.
Councillors are due to decide in the next few months on Aurora Energy Resources’ plans to drill, frack and test two shale gas wells at Altcar Moss.
Under new rules, supporters and opponents would not be able to present their views in person. The meeting would be held online and public statements would be read by a council officer.
In a letter to Moss Alliance chair Maureen Mills, the council defended the arrangements.
Mrs Mills said she was now seeking support from the local MP, Rosie Cooper, to give people the chance to address the committee directly, as happens in some other councils.
“Rosie has been a great supporter all along of our efforts to raise public awareness and oppose Aurora’s application to frack at Altcar Moss near Formby.
“Nevertheless, despite the moratorium on fracking consents and withdrawal of government support for fracking, Aurora are continuing with their application which is likely to be determined by Lancashire County Council in August or September. Thereby they continue to put residents through the trauma of the threat to our health, the environment, our countryside and its agricultural heritage.”
The head of planning at Lancashire, Andrew Mullaney, said the county council had decided not to allow people to phone into the committee because trials showed that phone numbers often appeared on the webcast. This would breach the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), he said.
Writing on behalf of the council’s chief executive, Mr Mullaney said:
“People will still be able to comment on planning applications, and the Committee will take their views into account before deciding on an application.
“I do acknowledge your wish to be able to present your views to members of the Committee in person particularly on controversial planning applications where many representations have been received.
“That is why the county council introduced its public speaking procedure which, even with the most recent changes, is still very accommodating in terms of the numbers of residents allowed to speak compared to that allowed by most other planning authorities.”
Mr Mullaney added:
“I do recognise the limitations of these proposals from the point of view of local residents and the County Council is continuing to investigate how these issues can be resolved for future meeting where there is likely to be a demand for public speaking whilst complying with its legal obligations under the GDPR.”
Mrs Mills said:
“I see no reason why the public cannot waive their data protection rights on their phone numbers or the council could sort out the problem by just showing initials on the webcast?
“Better still, it could use a system that would show people by video?”
Surrey and West Sussex county councils allowed members of the public to contribute to recent planning committees using online meeting software. A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee yesterday used the same system as Lancashire.
Lancashire’s development control committee has 12 members.
Mrs Mills also questioned why small council committees like this could not resume meeting in person.
“The chamber at Lancashire County Council is massive so they should be able to distance in there? If pubs can manage why not council meetings?”
Lancashire’s development control committee meets next on Wednesday 15 July when it will consider Cuadrilla’s request to extend the life of its Elswick gas site by five more years. An extraordinary meeting is planned for Wednesday 12 August and a scheduled meeting is listed for Wednesday 9 September.
Updated 13 July 2020 with quote from Maureen Mills on Rosie Cooper