Nottinghamshire’s only remaining shale gas site has been ordered to be restored.
The county council’s planning committee voted this morning to refuse an application by IGas to extend the life of its site at Misson by another three years.
The decision went against a recommendation to approve from council planning officers.
IGas wanted to keep the Misson site until November 2023 while it attempted to overturn the moratorium on fracking in England.
But councillors said IGas should restore it now. The company could apply to reactivate the site if the moratorium were lifted, they said.
They voted by 12 with one abstention to refuse the application, .
Wildlife organisations, local councils, campaign groups and more than 70 people had submitted objections to the application. There were no public comments in support.
The Misson well pad, known as Springs Road, is on the site of a former bombing range and test area for cold war Bloodhound surface to air missiles.
It is next to the Misson Carr site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a large wetland fen that is home to all five species of British owl, as well as other rare and threatened birds, plans and insects.
Today’s meeting heard that Springs Road has been mothballed since 2019 when IGas drilled the first of two permitted wells.
A moratorium on fracking has been in force in England since November 2019. This was imposed by the government after earthquakes caused by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool.
IGas said last year that it would not carry out any exploration work at Misson while the moratorium was in place. But if the moratorium were lifted, the company said it would seek to drill a horizontal well and carry out fracking.
The company had said initial analysis of data showed “a very material world-class resource” of shale gas. Analysis was ongoing, it said, and would allow the design of the horizontal well to be finalised.
Ard Battey, an IGas director, told the meeting the site was nationally important. The extension would also allow the company to look at the geothermal potential of the Misson site.
But Matthew Curtis, of Misson Parish Council, told councillors that the lives of local people had been “blighted” since the spectre of shale gas was first raised in 2014.
He said residents had faced the challenges of company secrecy during seismic testing, protests outside the site, a massive police presence, IGas’s High Court injunction and a high level of site security.
Extending the permission for another three years would result in “another three years of uncertainty and anxiety”, he said.
The local county councillor, Tracey Taylor, said the committee was being asked to make a decision about a possible change in planning regulations [the lifting of the moratorium] which may or may not happen.
“The impact of the site is far more than visibility. The mothballing is a daily reminder to residents that this may become a live site in the future.”
Dennis May, of the campaign group, Frack Free Misson, described the application as:
“a cynical attempt to manipulate the planning system to prop up a failed industry.”
The original planning permission had given IGas enough time to complete the proposed work at Springs Road but the company had chosen not to do so, the group said.
Mr May said it was misleading of IGas to blame the moratorium because its terms did not prevent IGas from drilling the second well or carry out small-scale fracking to test the well.
He also disputed IGas’s claim that the site would be “sterilised” if the extension was not granted. He said permitting an extension delayed the inevitable restoration of the site – “this site will never be suitable for noisy industry”, he said.
Janice Bradley, of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, told the committee that long eared owls on the SSSI had moved further east from their habitual breeding locations in 2018, away from the noise of the drilling site.
She said the application was a test of principle that councils should consider climate change when assessing planning applications. There were now stringent targets on reducing emissions. The Misson site was “fundamentally the wrong place”, she said.
The wildlife trust had a legal obligation to improve the quality of the SSSI, Ms Bradley said, and had invested considerable sums in it in the past year.
“Any continued disturbance would compromise our ability to meet this obligation.”
“Surprised and disappointed”
Committee member Philip Owen (Conservative) said he was “surprised an disappointed” by the recommendation to approve IGas’s application. He said going against the recommendation was “member power”. He said:
“I do not think it will be premature to invoke restoration”.
Cllr Roger Upton (Conservative) said the council had passed a declaration of climate emergency since the original shale gas application had been passed in 2016. “Things have changed”, he said.
“The site should be restored as soon as possible to remove the blight”.
Cllr Jim Creamer (Labour) described the application as “land banking”, while Cllr Paul Henshaw (Labour) said:
“They [IGas] have had enough time. Lets get this site cleared up for the people that live near there.”
The meeting decided that with the present uncertainty about the lifting of the moratorium, an extension to November 2023 was considered unacceptable for the local community and environment, contrary to the local minerals plan.
These impacts would outweigh the benefits of retaining the site and refusal would allow for the timely restoration of the site, councillors agreed.
The meeting was broadcast on the Nottinghamshire County Council’s YouTube channel