One of the UK’s largest onshore oil and gas proposals in recent years was refused this morning.
In the past few minutes, East Yorkshire councillors blocked 20 years of oil production and an additional six wells at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-A well site in Holderness. The scheme would have trebled the footprint of the site.
There were cheers from the public gallery as the council’s planning committee voted by 7 votes to five against the application.
Councillors said the increase in wells from two to eight was not on an appropriate scale for the local landscape and would be disproportionate and out of character. They also said the number of heavy lorries serving the site on rural roads would be unacceptable.
The decision, which goes against the advice of officials, comes six months after the council declared a climate emergency and just 31 days before the start of the COP26 international climate conference in Glasgow.
This is the first time Conservative-controlled East Riding of Yorkshire Council has refused an application from Rathlin Energy.
There were 1,121 objections to the scheme, as well as opposition from eight parish councils and local ward councillors. There were seven letters of support.
The main concerns of opponents were the proposal’s contribution to climate change, the impact on local roads, industrialisation of a rural area and the effect on the health of residents. They also said it failed to take account of the cumulative of impact of local developments.
Rathlin Energy said its proposal was backed up by detailed reports. It would, the company said, support UK energy security, provide industrial feedstocks and help the transition to a low-carbon economy.
This morning’s committee in Beverley followed a pre-meeting earlier this week at which supporters and opponents put their case to councillors.
Today, the two sides had just three minutes to summarise their arguments.
The council’s planning officer, Alan Wainwright, said the scheme complied with national and local policy. There were no objections from technical consultees, on issues such as traffic, air quality, risk to the aquifer and impacts on residential amenity.
On climate change, he said this issue would be included in the local plan which was currently being reviewed but not yet completed. In a report to the committee, councillors had been told:
“Whilst the burning of hydrocarbons produced by the proposals will undoubtedly give rise to unwelcome carbon emissions, it is important to note that the consent is limited to 25 years and that during that time it is anticipated that there will be a substantial restructuring of the UK economy to enable it to become based upon low carbon.”
The development would result in an extra 30 two-way lorry movements a day during construction and 10 two-way movements a day during 20 years of production.
Opponents said the roads were not suitable and the proposed route was not safe. But council planners said the proposals were “considered acceptable from a highway safety, access and parking perspective”.
Local resident, Harry Clark, told the committee the proposal would produce oil that was not needed. Millions of cubic feet of gas would be released into the atmosphere in the most polluted county in the country for greenhouse gases.
He said residents would face 90 weeks of 24-hour working, with noise, atmospheric and light pollution. Would you want to be a resident in one of these communities?, he asked.
John Hodgins, a director of Rathlin Energy, said the scheme would benefit energy industries on the Humber estuary and invest in the local community. Rathlin’s aim was “a responsibly-produced product” that helped to secure UK energy supply.
The ward councillor, Jacob Birch (Conservative) said there was no appetite for the application from local community and Rathlin Energy had no social licence. He said the proposal would result in the industrialisation of Holderness, which would become a sacrifice zone.
John Holtby (Conservative). another mid-Holderness councillor, said the roads around the site were “pathetically small and inadequate” for any vehicles other than a car. He said local people were not happy to be invaded by a fossil fuel business.
Cllr Andy Walker (Yorkshire Party) said this was the council’s first big test in recognising the climate crisis. He urged the committee to refuse the application.
Committee member, Cllr Nigel Wilkinson (Conservative), said Rathlin’s proposal would help, rather than, contribute to climate change. “It will cut down on the pollution of the seas and the air from dirty great big tankers”, he said.
Cllr David Rudd (Conservative), who supported the application, said:
“We have to industrialise the countryside to some degree and I don’t think it is too bad a thing provided the highways are suitable.”
He said industrialisation often resulted in local road improvements. “Everything will work out fine”, he said.
Another committee member, Cllr Geraldine Mathieson (Independent), said grounds for refusal were weak and risked costs being awarded against the council.
But Cllr Philip Davison (lib Dem) said the proposal “flies in the face of local opinion”.
Cllr Anne Handley (Conservative), described the proposal as disproportionate. She said she could not accept large vehicles on country lanes. “Value is not always measured in monetary terms”, she said.