Monday, 29 June 2015

Preston New Road shale gas application refused

Anti-fracking campaigners converging on County Hall today
Photo by Miles Newman

People all over the UK - and most particularly Lancashire and the Fylde are celebrating today as members of Lancashire County Council's (LCC) Development Control Committee (DCC) have voted to refuse the application by oil and gas company Cuadrilla for exploratory shale gas fracking at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.

LCC had received many thousands of objections to the applications, which had little support that had not been sponsored by the applicant itself. Councillors voted 9 - 3 to refuse, with 2 abstentions.

The application to drill, frack and test at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton was refused on the following grounds:

1) The development would cause an unacceptable adverse impact on the landscape, arising from the drilling equipment, noise mitigation equipment, storage plant, flare stacks and other associated development. The combined effect would result in an adverse urbanising effect on the open and rural character of the landscape and visual amenity of local residents contrary to policies DM2 Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan and Policy EP11 Fylde Local Plan. 

2) The development would cause an unacceptable noise impact resulting in a detrimental impact on the amenity of local residents which could not be adequately controlled by condition contrary to policies DM2 Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan and Policy EP27 Fylde Local Plan.

The committee also refused a separate application for the same site to enable Cuadrilla to monitor its operations because of impact on the landscape.

A second application from Cuadrilla for exploratory fracking at Roseacre Wood was refused last week, although a separate application for monitoring work at that site was allowed.
The full reports relating to the applications can be viewed on the Lancashire County Council website.

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, and member of the DCC, said:

"This is one of the biggest planning decisions ever put before Lancashire County Council. The development control committee has listened very carefully to many hours of evidence both for and against the proposal, and considered the report of the council's planning officers. 

"The decision to refuse this application has been reached by a vote of the committee, which is composed of elected councillors, and each member of the committee has ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they have heard and whether they think the proposal is acceptable in planning terms, and to the people they represent."

Decision deferred - legal advice
The hearing was deferred over the weekend in order that Councillors could consider conflicting legal advice over the issue of whether, if they refused the application, expensive costs might be awarded against LCC in the event of a successful appeal by Cuadrilla.

LCC's own legal advice seemed to be of the opinion that they could not refuse Cuadrilla without bringing the sky down on all our heads. However, QC advice obtained by Friends of the Earth, and a further QC opinion obtained by the Preston New Road Action Group concurred that the council could not be penalised for doing its job properly in deciding an application on evidence and statute, and that in such cases ''there is no serious risk of costs even if the appeal is allowed'.

Congratulations in order
Lancashire's councillors who voted to protect the area against the detrimental incursions of Cuadrilla are to be congratulated as there can be no doubt that the pressure to accede to Cuadrilla has been immense, backed not only by the resources of Cuadrilla, but also by the leviathon Peel Group. Both of these have such influence in government that they have been able to place their colleagues and business partners in leadership positions in regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency - bodies supposed to be independent and tasked with public protection.

Inspectorate and SoS primed to facilitate Cuadrilla appeal
A leaked memo from Chancellor George Osborne to ministers last Autumn made it clear that if  LCC proved ineducable to the advice that would be made available to it and refused the applications, Cuadrilla should appeal and the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State should be prepared to respond promptly.

But it's one thing for government ministers to sell Lancashire out for their personal or family interests. It would have been quite another for our own elected councillors to do it.  Today Lancashire can celebrate a victory - for democracy, logic, science, the common good and the future.

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