Planning officers at Lancashire County Council have recommended that applications for shale gas exploration be refused due to the predicted increase in noise pollution and traffic.
Shale gas operator Cuadrilla had proposed two exploration and fracking sites in Lancashire, at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.
The Environment Agency had granted an environmental permit for operations at Preston New Road and was "minded to approve" those at Roseacre Wood.
Noise assessments commissioned by the county council found that existing background noise at both sites was lower than that given by Cuadrilla, meaning that its operations would lead to a greater increase in noise levels than that predicted by the applicant, according to the planning officers' reports for both sites.
This would have “significant adverse effects on the health and quality of life, and lead to an unacceptable loss of residential amenity to those residents at the nearest residential properties,” the reports state.
The application at Roseacre Wood was also recommended for refusal due to its impact on traffic, which planners judged to be “severe”, particularly that of HGVs on small rural roads.
Planning officers also judged that Cuadrilla’s proposals would have other negative effects, including air quality, greenhouse-gas emissions, ecology, landscape, waste and water resources, but said that these would be low or could be mitigated by planning conditions.
Planning officers dismissed objections based on opposition to the principle of shale gas exploration. The report states: “While it is recognised that a number of groups and individuals oppose the continued reliance on hydrocarbons as a primary energy resource and more particularly the principle and nature of shale gas exploration and appraisal in view of the potential harm and irreversible damage and ground contamination it could potentially cause, it is considered that these concerns cannot be supported and they would not constitute a sustainable reason for refusing the proposal.”
A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said: “After an extraordinarily lengthy period of consultation and review of around seven months we are surprised that, at this late point, the planning team at Lancashire County Council has raised objections about background noise for both sites.
“We believe, supported by independent experts Arup, that we have come forward with measures that would mitigate the noise of drilling and fracturing and the proposed noise levels are within the limits set out in government guidance,” he added.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of trade group UKOOG, called the planners’ decision “disappointing”. “The grounds for refusal are local planning matters specific to these sites rather than any issues that would have an obvious impact on other shale gas applications. I am pleased that the report concluded that the concerns raised by environmental groups have been addressed.”
Friends of the Earth’s North West campaigner Helen Rimmer said she was delighted with the planning officers’ recommendation, adding that councillors should reject the application when they meet next Wednesday.
“Only by doing so will they ensure that fracking is not allowed to cause further climate change while also putting communities and the local environment at risk,” she said.