Second fracking application refused

29th June 2015


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IEMA

An application for fracking in Lancashire has been refused despite legal advice to councillors that their grounds would not stand up at appeal.

The application by Cuadrilla for exploration and fracking of shale gas at Preston New Road was refused on the grounds of noise and visual impact by nine councillors out of 14 on Lancashire County Council’s planning committee.

Three of the councillors rejecting the application were Conservative, five Labour and one independent, while two Labour councillors and one Conservative voted in favour of the application. Two Conservative councillors abstained from the vote.

The committee had delayed the decision from Thursday after it received legal advice from David Manley QC. It stated that refusing the application on the grounds of visual impact, as had been suggested by councillors, would not stand up at a planning appeal since the council’s own landscape adviser had described the impact of the development as “moderate”. The council’s planning officers had recommended that the application be approved.

“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,” Manley stated in his advice.

However, further legal advice from Richard Harwood QC, which had been commissioned by Friends of the Earth, stated that committee members were entitled to disagree with advice given to them. He pointed out that Cuadrilla’s proposal would have a moderate impact on landscape and would raise noise levels in the area.

Harwood also said that the committee could refuse the application on the grounds that it is not in accordance with Fylde Borough Council’s local development plan.

Separate legal advice commissioned by anti-fracking campaigners, Preston New Road Action Group, came to a similar conclusion.

A statement from Cuadrilla stated that it was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

“We will now take time to consider our options regarding an appeal for Preston New Road, along with also considering appeals for the planning applications recently turned down, against officer advice, for monitoring and site restoration at Grange Hill, and last week’s decision to refuse the Roseacre Wood application,” it stated.

The environmental impact assessment accompanying the application for Preston New Road was the most comprehensive ever carried out for applications of this kind, it claimed, adding: “These assessments are the product of thousands of hours of work from independent expert environmental scientists and other engineering specialists and they demonstrate beyond question that the operations can and will be conducted safely and without damage to people’s health or their environment.”

Industry body UKOOG also said it was “extremely disappointed” by the council’s decision, adding that legal advice it had commissioned from Nathalie Lieven QC stated that refusal on the grounds of the noise data supplied by consultants would not stand up at appeal: “Noise is a highly technical issue where there is little scope for judgment. It is not open to the council to say it does not accept the evidence of Arup or Jacobs in respect of noise, unless robust evidence can be provided to the contrary. In this case, Jacobs, the council's own noise consultant, has concluded noise impacts are acceptable.”

Because noise is a technical matter with so little scope for interpretation it is one of the more common matters that give rise to an award of costs against a council, she said. On landscape, she said that the officers’ report made it clear that impacts will be “temporary, localised and reversible”, which will be an overwhelming factor in an appeal, with a high risk of the council losing and having to pay costs.

Friends of the Earth north west campaigner Furqan Naeem said: “In the teeth of massive pressure from Cuadrilla and [the government in] Westminster, Lancashire’s brave county councillors have voted to protect their citizens and the local environment – the winners today are democracy and the people of Lancashire.”

Greenpeace described Cuadrilla’s “defeat” a “Waterloo for the fracking industry”.

The council’s planning committee had already refused a separate application for fracking at Roseacre Wood in Lancashire due to traffic impacts, in line with advice from planning officers.

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