Legal advice delays fracking decision

25th June 2015


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Energy ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Water ,
  • Noise ,
  • Air

Author

Aisling Webb

County councillors have deferred a decision on controversial plans to exploit shale gas reserves in Lancashire after legal advice cast doubt on their grounds for refusing permission.

The application by developer Cuadrilla sought permission for exploration and fracking of shale gas at its Preston New Road site in Fylde, Lancashire.

The application was recommended for refusal in January due to noise impacts, but the council agreed to allow Cuadrilla to submit further mitigation plans to reduce noise from a maximum of 42dB to 39dB. Planning officers subsequently recommended approval of the plans, subject to conditions on issues including noise, air quality and traffic.

Yesterday’s council meeting was watched closely by anti-fracking protesters, with many gathering outside to lobby. The council received 18,022 objections to Cuadrilla’s plans and 217 letters in support, according to the planners’ report. Many objections were against shale gas exploration in principle, but planners said that these views could not be supported by the council since national planning guidance states that shale gas is necessary to provide a diversity of energy supply. There were no objections from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, the Highways Agency, while Natural England withdrew an earlier application after Cuadrilla submitted extra information on special protection areas and air quality.

The deputy chair of Lancashire county council’s planning committee, councillor Kevin Ellard, initially proposed a motion to refuse the application on several grounds, including that it is contrary to Fylde borough council’s local plan, which states that industrial development in the countryside should not be allowed unless required for agriculture, horticulture or forestry. The development would also damage the landscape, in particular, the extra fence that Cuadrilla has proposed to bring noise levels down, he added.

However, this motion was watered down to base a refusal solely on landscape grounds after councillors received advice from a barrister. Earlier, the council’s head of development management, Stuart Perigo, had warned councillors that their suggested grounds for refusal would not stand up to an appeal by Cuadrilla.

A vote to refuse the application split the council, with seven against and seven in favour. The chair’s casting vote was against refusal. However, councillors then debated the need to make the legal advice public, with several raising concerns that it had forced their hands, with councillors eventually voting to defer a final decision. The delay would enable the committee and the public to study the legal advice, they said.

The legal advice was published this morning. It states that refusing the application on landscape grounds would not stand up at a planning appeal since the council’s own landscape adviser had described the impact of the development as “moderate”.

“In the absence of clear evidence to gainsay the views of the various consultees and the case officer, there is a high risk that a costs penalty will be imposed upon the council,” the note from David Manley QC states.

A separate application by Cuadrilla for shale gas exploration at Roseacre Wood in Lancashire is being debated by the committee today. Planning officers recommended refusal due to the impact of lorry traffic on rural roads. Click here to watch the debate on live webcast.

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