Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lancs County Council defers fracking decision 8 weeks

Tractor procession of farmers against fracking
arriving at County Hall today

At the same time that a moratorium on fracking was being announced in Scotland, Lancashire County Council's (LCC) Development Control Committee today resolved to defer their decisions on the planning applications relating to sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in light of the submission of further information by the applicant, Cuadrilla.

The date at which the committee will reconvene to determine the applications will be published as soon as possible but it is not expected to be sooner than 8 weeks.

County Councillor Munsif Dad, chair of the committee, said: "During the meeting members heard legal advice that supported the request for deferral, which will enable time for consultation on the new information provided by the applicant.

"We will reconvene as soon as we can to consider the decisions in light of the new information when it is presented to the committee. Everyone who has registered to speak for or against the applications will be invited back to do so at that time.

"Clearly as the planning applications remain live the council is unable to comment further at this stage." 

More 'consultation' time needed
LCC's planning report on the application had recommended refusal of the applications on grounds of unacceptable levels of noise and disturbance.

Cuadrilla's fracking operation in Balcombe was suspended temporarily last year when residents complained of noise levels that rattled their windows and exceeded promised noise limits.

Cuadrilla has asked for time (see their statement) to prepare a revised application in which they will attempt to prove that they can drill, pump and drive tankers and trucks substantially more quietly than they previously thought. They will erect noise barriers and explore another route through the RAF Inskip base (who will surely welcome all this traffic through a secure MoD base).  Their team of lawyers argued, in their request for a deferment, that these revisions will be substantive to the application, making public consultation is mandatory, so time should be allowed for that.

The council's legal advice was that LCC would very likely be found in breach and punished if it exercised its authority.
Councillors expressed concerns that the period of anxiety of local residents should be extended even further but felt constrained to accept the legal advice and defer the decision.

Osborne to force permits through
According to The Guardian report, Cllr Holgate (Labour) also referred to the leaked letter from George Osborne outlining how Government ministers must pull out all the stops to support Cuadrilla's applications - and the fracking industry as a whole. If LCC finally refuse the applications, Osborne wrote, Cuadrilla are to appeal to the government's Planning Inspectorate asap and the government is to attribute powers to the Secretary of State (SoS). These would enable the SoS to 'recover' any fracking application to be determined by himself, effectively making local council planning decisions redundent.

Thus, LCC is literally faced with the government working as a catspaw for Qatari-owned Cuadrilla, at the taxpayers' expense, to force the application through.

Eric 'Frackspaw' Pickles 
The Secretary of State in question is Eric Pickles, who has a robust track record of opposing energy saving measures and renewable energy development. In March 2014 Pickles’ department tabled a last minute amendment to a Cabinet Office deregulation bill, with the intention of deregulating the energy standards that any English local authority could set for buildings.

Pickles also brought us the Localism Bill, in order that local communities could have more say where they objected to local renewable energy schemes. When it comes to fracking, however, this Coalition government is industry-ruled and determined to ensure that communities and their elected councils have no say at all.

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