Former council executive accuses East Yorkshire of failing to disclose key information on oil site expansion

A former senior council officer is challenging the authority he worked for over its support for the major expansion of an oil site.

Jon Mager

Jon Mager, the director of adult and children’s services for the East Riding of Yorkshire until 2006, has objected to the council’s backing for 20 years of oil production and six more boreholes at the West Newton-A wellsite in Holderness.

He accused the council of failing to disclose all the “relevant information” to residents, businesses and other local authorities in a report on a planning application.

The application by Rathlin Energy is one of the largest for UK onshore oil and gas developments in recent years.

A decision is due tomorrow (Thursday 30 September) at a meeting of East Yorkshire’s planning committee.

“Deliberately omits information”

Mr Mager is a long-standing opponent of onshore oil and gas developments in East Yorkshire and elsewhere.

In a written objection to the council sent yesterday, he criticised a report by the director of planning and economic regeneration which recommended approval of Rathlin Energy’s plans.

He said:

“[the report] deliberately omits information about the cumulative impact arising from his recommendations so the Planning Committee are not in possession of all relevant information”.

The council and Rathlin Energy have refused to make public a letter about expansion plans for West Newton-A and the nearby West Newton-B site, where an extra eight wells and 20 years of production were also proposed.

The council’s reply, which has been published, said officials were “supportive” of the proposals “subject to consideration” of a range of planning issues.

Mr Mager told DrillOrDrop:

“People have a right to know the full picture – not be given one bit of the picture at a time.”

In his objection, he said:

“This is a wholly inadequate report with serious omissions so that there cannot be material consideration of cumulative impact on the environment.

“Only by full disclosure of Rathlin’s strategy, already supported by the Director, can members of the Planning Committee serve the best interest of East Riding residents and businesses. All information should have been made available as part of the public consultation.

“The Director may wish to argue that the Planning Committee can only decide on the application for development at West Newton-A. The fact that he is fully aware and in principle supportive of a much larger development at West Newton-B is of crucial relevance to the West Newton-A application.”

Mr Mager also questioned the council’s decision that the West Newton-A application did not need a detailed environmental impact assessment, later supported by a government minister.

“A major issue arising is whether the Secretary of State was briefed about the full scope of Rathlin’s strategy when he concluded that a full environment impact assessment was not required.”

Rathlin Energy’s West Newton oil sites

“Council support is illogical on climate grounds”

Mr Mager said the decision on West Newton-A should be postponed until after the international climate conference in Glasgow in November.

“The Planning Committee should reject the report and instruct the Director to review all relevant local planning policy in the context of COP26 and the Climate Emergency.”

He told DrillOrDrop:

“If plans for a Cumbrian Coal Mine are seen as politically controversial I am mystified why there is no interest in the proposed new oil and gas field in the East Riding.”

The council report said Rathlin Energy could extract an estimated 283 million barrels of oil and 265.9 billion cubic feet of gas held in Permian age rocks.

Mr Mager said the support for this was illogical in the context of a climate emergency and the quest for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

He said:

“It is not clear whether the estimated oil and gas volumes are for just West Newton-A or for both the West Newton sites.

“If the volumes are considered a material benefit but involve West Newton-B, as well as West Newton-A, that is another reason why the council should specifically refer to the cumulative impacts of both sites in its report.”

Mr Mager also said local planning policies, used by the council to support approval of the application, were “clearly inconsistent to deal with the climate emergency”,

He added that the committee report failed to draw attention to the changing approach to UK energy policy.

“There is every justification for a pause until UK planning policy changes arising from COP 26 become clear.”

“Industry is self-regulated”

Mr Mager also criticised the report’s conclusion that the oil and gas industry was heavily regulated. He said:

“The truth is that onshore oil and gas exploration is largely self-regulated.

“the Planning Committee is not offered any evidence or explanation of how the huge volume of desk top examination of paperwork translates into safe oversight and regulation of an inherently dangerous industry.”

He said the UK has no dedicated inspectorate for onshore oil and gas sites, no regime of annual or unannounced inspections and no regulatory regime for traffic management plans.

Mr Mager said Rathlin Energy had a relevant history of failing to adhere to regulations. DrillOrDrop reported that the company had breached at least 14 conditions of the West Newton-A site environmental permit in four months in 2015. 

It took repeated reports of gas leaks from West Newton A by local residents before the Environment Agency took action, Mr Mager said.

On traffic management, he said:

“Any complaints lead to a fruitless display of finger pointing between ERYC, Humberside Police and Rathlin.”

Council report

DrillOrDrop has invited East Riding of Yorkshire to comment on Mr Mager’s criticisms and his question on the estimated oil and gas volumes.

We reported last week on the planners’ recommendation to approve.

The officer’s report said the application complied with local and national policy on climate change and other planning issues.

The proposals were “considered acceptable in landscape terms” and highway safety, access and parking, the report said.

There have been more than one thousand objections to the application.

6 replies »

  1. Not to worry

    Keeping it in the refinery (or keep it in the pump) has not gone down well with the pubic, who seem very keen to ensure hydrocarbons are readily available, and Kier says he would do far better job of slaking the country’s hydrocarbon thirst then the present gov. Better just import it, and not worry about all that safety and environmental stuff eh.

    Meanwhile – up the road….

    Green Power to develop 1GW of Solar on two ex coal sites says the attached report – but then actually its developed within sight (on a clear day, and standing on a stool) of the old coal fired power stations, not on the sites (and as regular readers will know, the headlines can be a bit misleading). The power station grid infrastructure is where the connections will be.

    Now to settle down to see how this goes down in the area, as covering the fields with solar farms has been as welcome as covering them with houses, chicken farms and rendering plants. How will the areas benefit and where will the cash go? Or will they be welcomed with open arms?

    But for sure, you do not need any vegetable pickers if you cover your fields with solar panels.


  2. As there was a pre-meeting why send a letter yesterday?!

    Surely, if anyone has a desire to object they could make the effort to get along to the pre-meeting and do it there?

    If they did, why send a letter?

    Yes, hewes62, Kier would import loads of HGV drivers also to get the stuff delivered, and just tough that the UK drivers who are only now seeing the sort of pay they deserve, will go back to the salary packages they used to “enjoy”! Not such an understanding of the Sun readers in that little gimmick.
    OMG-I watched that whilst playing with my grandson. War and Peace without the Peace throughout the Conference and War and Peace without the plot at the end of it. I trust that is the last of the re-launches-each one is longer than the last but not that much different.

    • They have all been timed by the campaigners to have the best effect just before the Planning Decision Meeting. Just like the young lass who was paraded at the Pre-planning meeting and surprise surprise her grandad will be speaking at the meeting on Thursday.

  3. Thank you, Jon, for your stand on this issue. Let’s hope that the East Riding Council are a bit more principled than North Yorkshire were in their decision-making on the fracking application at Kirby Misperton!

  4. How many of the objectors actually live in the area? I spoke to someone with sympathies to a protest group who suggested if I want to complain, I should use a made-up name and an address from the area. She said she thought they never check!

  5. From my own experience, there is a pretty wide understanding of such mechanisms within Councils. They see it all the time, for all sorts of planning issues.

    At the end of the day, the decisions are driven by the substance, with or without an Appeal. I agree with you Jackie that this may go to Appeal, but it could be pretty expensive with Wressle as an example of a previous, recent, incorrect decision that had to be adjusted. As this was connected to this current application via ownership then it will not be overlooked. I don’t think operators or officials will be too lenient upon contrived delays unless a particular reason can be established rather than just a rehash of what was found to be insufficient previously. Ignoring such a precedent does have an automatic counter of increasing costs of ignoring such. I certainly know of other planning situations where the applicant has made it very clear what costs they will seek at Appeal if an incorrect decision means an Appeal is required, and then the Planning Officer had to quietly tell the Committee how this would be likely to be ruled upon. Strangely (lol) protestors don’t crowd fund the costs back to the local community that they impose upon them.

    The Wressle debacle ended with the ruling including:

    “There is no suggestion that this proposal would increase the use of hydrocarbons, and the evidence demonstrates that the effect would be simply to transfer production to a more local source”.

    (Transport emissions reduced, climate change argument in the bin.)

    Whilst a few, like 1720, still try and destroy the laws of arithmetic to counter that, it is obviously a true and valid statement of fact. Thus, IMO it comes down to whether this site, with mitigations, has particular operational difficulties remaining. Can’t see it myself.

    No queues at local petrol stations? No tractors in local fields burning red diesel preparing next years harvest?

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