Anti-frack groups descend on Preston as shale debate begins

Opposing sides in the fracking debate spent hours urging councillors to support their stance on shale gas in Lancashire.

Wednesday, 24th June 2015, 7:05 am
Protesters: Outside the Fracking meeting at County Hall in Preston

Scores of members of the public addressed councillors as the long-awaited hearing into shale gas exploration in Lancashire finally got under way.

County Council planners have recommended that Cuadrilla’s application to drill for shale gas at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, near Blackpool, be approved.

But objectors including John Tootil, of Maple Farm Nursery Gardens, told members of the development control committee that he was totally opposed to the plan.

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Packed: Members of the public filled the galleries at County Hall for the debate

He said he lived only 800 metres from the proposed Preston New Road fracking site.

Mr Tootill said Cuadrilla wanted to drill around and under his home. He said his proximity to a fracking site would make his business unviable.

Any contaminated water or leakages would spill down under his properties, he said.

Mr Tootil said: “If the application is approved, it would destroy our business, our way of life, four full-time jobs and our home.”

Cuadrilla claims that the shale gas industry could brings a jobs boom to Lancashire. But opponents say there is a danger of earthquakes,and health risks from contamination.

The council’s chief planner set out his case why he felt Cuadrilla’s application for Preston New Road should be approved.

Stuart Perigo said there had been more than 18,000 objections received against Cuadrilla’s plans – many in a template form.

Only around 2,000 were from the Fylde – less than five per cent of the population.

But he said many of the issues had been addressed and he felt that the application could not be rejected on the grounds of perceived fears about the effect on the environment or public health.

Traffic and noise around the site were issues that could be addressed with conditions.

Mr Perigo said he accepted that there would be disruption - particularly to people living in the immediate area. But the “negative impact” would be short-lived.

Mr Perigo recommended the bid to frack at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, be approved.

Members of the public invited to the hearing spoke of their fears of the dangers to public health and the environment caused by fracking.

They said Lancashire was being used as “a guinea pig” for an industry that very little was known about.

Peter Watson, of Staining Wood Farm, said he also lived near the proposed site. He said the fracking industry had no “fit for purpose” regulatory system.

Mr Watson said there would also be an impact on tourism - he knew many people who were opposed to fracking but were too afraid to speak out.

Susan Holliday, who lives 300m from the proposed site, said claims of many jobs being created were exaggerated.

Only 11 full-time jobs were talked about in the application documents.

The increased traffic and risks to health from gases and contamination were real.

Coun John Hodson of West Lancashire Council said there had been a degree of government interference in the planning process.

He urged members to reject the plans and not to take part in a “sham event” that gave the plans the green light.

Karen Henshaw, a local councillor and retired magistrate, said she did not want the Fylde’s “green and pleasant land” ruined by drilling rigs, compounds and gas flares.

James Walsh of Lancaster said there was “no moral, economic or social case” for fracking,

But speakers like Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said the economic benefits to the county from shale gas could be “enormous”.

Claire Smith, of Stay Blackpool, said she supported the shale gas industry if it was safely regulated.

Blackpool had suffered in recent years, and towns like it needed fresh jobs and new investment.

Tony Raynor, of Abbey Telecom, said he too supported shale gas.

He said the tenacity of the industry’s opponents did not actually “reflect the will of the people”.

Fylde businessman Marcus Addison said his firm’s engineers had looked at Cuadrilla’s plans to reduce noise around the Preston New Road site and agreed the firm had addressed the issue.

Cuadrilla’s second application for Roseacre Wood, near Elswick, has been recommended for refusal, mainly on traffic grounds.

The hearing is expected to last until Friday - follow the debate live here

Read more on yesterday’s fracking debate here: