Anger over legal advice at fracking debate

The Fracking meeting at County Hall in Preston
The Fracking meeting at County Hall in Preston
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Councillors have reacted angrily to legal advice given to the County Hall committee given the task of ruling on two planning bids to frack on the Fylde.

Some of the members of the Development Control Committee are furious saying that the advice seemed to suggest that the hearings taking place in Preston, seen as crucial to the future of the shale gas industry in Lancashire, were a waste of time.

Basically what we were told yesterday was that the two days we have just had were a waste of time.

Coun Paul Hayhurst

In day two on the discussion over the bid to frack at Preston New Road a series of adjournments were called over whether the application could be thrown out because of its visual impact on the area.

However, councillors were advised by Queens Counsel that such a decision might be seen as unreasonable since their own Specialist Advisory Service had not raised an objection on these grounds before the hearings.

Committee member County Coun Paul Hayhurst reacted angrily to the legal advice which was finally published today on LCC’s website.

He said in effect it meant that the planning decision was being taken out of the hands of democratically elected representatives of the public under the threat of heavy financial costsif applicant Cuadrilla appealed to a Government inspector.

He said: “I am absolutely appalled by this.It suggests that because planning officers say there is no visual impact then there is no visual impact and we haven’t got a case. Surely that is for the members to determine that. This should be a democratic process.

“Basically what we were told yesterday was that the two days we have just had were a waste of time.”

Coun David Howarth was also angry about the legal implications. He said: “I am astonished to receive this document at 10am today. this is just what we were told yesterday lunch time and there is no mention of the clarification on policy CS5 which we asked about.”

County hall legal expert Jill Anderson said that the advice was about policy document DM2, which was a similar catch-all planning policy to CS5 which might not be seen as strong enough reasons to refuse the fracking bid.

The committee adjourned for 30 minutes discuss the advice in private. before returning to the chamber.

County Hall legal advisor Jill Anderson said the document was indeed just advice and it was up to the members to vote, but they needed to be made aware of any consequences.

A heated discussion followed in which several councillors said that the written advice was not the same as they were briefed on the day before when they took the vote which led to the refusal bid being defeated. They said it had been watered down since yesterday and that if this written advice had been used a different decision may have been arrived at in the vote.

Coun Paul Hayhurst said: “The vote was flawed yesterday and should be taken again. I would like the Vice Chairman to put his case again.”

Coun Alan Schofield disagreed and said the vote should stand. He said: “The words do appear to me to reflect what was said to us from the telephone conversation between our QC and legal officer. We have already made our decision.”

Coun David Howarth said: “This advice is not the same as what we had yesterday.”

Coun Kevin Ellard, vice chairman of the committee, said he would be prepared to make another proposal to refuse the Preston New Road application and said: “The written advice we have seen today is not the same as the advice we got yesterday”

Chairman Coun Munsif Dad proposed to continue this debate on Monday when Preston New Road was scheduled to be looked at again and that the committee should move on to hearing about Roseacre. His motion was carried and the hearing moved on to hear about the planning application from Cuadrilla to drill, frack and test the flow of gas at a site in Roseacre.

The Roseacre application had been recommended for refusal on night-time noise and traffic impact grounds in January and since then Cuadrilla had come back with new proposals to mitigate those issues.

However council officers were still recommending refusal on traffic grounds despite Cuadrilla’s alternative route for truck via Broughton and Woodplumpton.

A briefing by council planning officer Stuart Perigo outlined the details of the test fracking operation proposed and the concerns about the bid.

He advised that issues over excess noise had been addressed by Cuadrilla and that the only grounds under planning law for refusal would be over the traffic impact that HGVs servicing the drill site would have.

He pointed out that other considerations about visual impact and the nature of the countryside may not be applicable since this application was for a temporary nature.

He said the council had received 15,664 representations against the application of which 6,329 were from outside Lancashire.

He said it represented 2.9 per cent of the adult population locally. He added that they had had 205 letters in support from businesses.

People from the Fylde were then given the chance to have their say in a series of four minute speeches.

Jane Barnes said rural industry would be threatened by this drilling application.

She said if there was any contamination of the land or water the reputation of food producers would be damaged.

She said: “This is one of the most important milk producing areas in the country. Can anyone in this chamber guarantee that people will want to buy food from a fracked area?”

James Beaumont said the number of trucks needed for the drill site and fracking process would pose a danger on the local country lanes.

He said: “There is no safe road in Roseacre.The introduction of high volumes of HGVs will not protect the rural character and intrinsic beauty of the countryside.”

Ian Mottram also said the road system was not suitable for big trucks. He said he had witnessed when out cycling near Elswick, a horse and rider struggling to stay in control with a HGV on the road behind them.

He said he passed them and came to a blind bend around which a car was coming and which he had to flag down to avoid it crashing into the HGV.

He said: “Add to that scenario children going to schools in the area, tractors, mothers pushing buggies, and then add in the HGVs Cuadrilla wants to bring in and you can see it is a recipe for disaster.”

Roy Harrison said despite the extra noise reducing measures Cuadrilla had proposed they had still not dealt with the cumulative effects of all the noise a drilling operation in the countryside would bring.

He said: “The conditions proposed for this application to reduce noise would place the burden on the local community in effect to carry out noise policing.

“Our community would be faced with harm to health and well-being through noise and the stress of policing noise levels.”

He added that noise levels alone did not take into account the effects of impulsive noise caused by banging and clanging of the drill equipment and also the tone of the noise which could have a whining and droning effect.

Dr Louisa Sanz gave evidence to say that the fracking operation would cause mental health issues among locals, while Susan Holliday said the drilling would affect the ecology of the Fylde.

Gayzer Frackman of Lytham said the fracking operation would release radioactive material from the deep level drilling operation.

He said it could also leave open the prospect that the wells once gas had been exhausted, could be used for the disposal of radioactive material from nuclear power plants.

He said: “The deep bore holes will produce mining contaminants which will add to the background radiation level.”