Cuadrilla battle now personal, say fracking protesters

Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America
Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America
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Protesters fighting to stop fracking going ahead in Lancashire said today that Cuadrilla had made the battle “personal” by deciding to appeal.

The gas exploration company said yesterday it was to appeal against the county council’s decision to reject its applications .

The company had applied to frack at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, and at Roseacre Wood near Elswick.

County council officers had recommended that the Roseacre Wood bid should be dismissed mainly on traffic grounds, but said Preston New Road should be approved.

But members of the development control committee threw out both applications at a marathon hearing last month.

Cuadrilla said in a statement that LCC’s planning officer had recommended approval of the Preston New Road exploration site planning application and was very clear that the proposals were acceptable on all environmental and planning grounds.

The planning officer had recommended refusal of the Roseacre Wood exploration site on traffic grounds, said the company, said it would review the proposed traffic routing for Roseacre Wood in preparing its appeal.

“Our preferred route remains a two way route running to and from the A583 at the Clifton junction to the south of the Roseacre Wood exploration site and utilising a route through the Ministry of Defences’ Inskip site, bypassing local villages”, said a spokesman.

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: “We have given careful consideration to appeal the planning decisions taken by Lancashire County Council. This is a natural step in the democratic process for deciding any planning application. He added: “I understand that some people would prefer that we did not appeal but I am confident that we will demonstrate to Lancashire and the UK that shale gas exploration and fracking is not only safe but represents a very real opportunity to create jobs, fuel businesses, heat UK homes and stimulate significant local economic growth.”

The matter will now go before a planning inspector who will decide whether the original decisions should be upheld or overturned

North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executi ve Babs Murphy said: “The delay has already cost our local business community approximately £3.5 million of immediate contracting opportunities as five of six shortlisted contractors operate in Lancashire.

“Contracts that were in the process of being awarded for site construction, access roads and security valued at £2million, together with work array installation valued at £1.5million, are now on hold.

“All of these services were within the capability of Lancashire businesses to deliver and five of six shortlisted civil engineering contractors are based in Lancashire.

“Developing a viable shale industry in Lancashire will have positive economic implications for the region in terms of investment, jobs and supply chain engagement and has the potential to provide security of energy supply to regional manufacturers.”

A North West Energy Task Force spokesperson said: “Today’s announcement is good news for Lancashire’s economy. Our members, who are local business people and residents, support Cuadrilla’s decision to appeal the recent decisions by Lancashire County Council. Clearly there were a number of inconsistencies and flaws in last month’s decision.

“As was made clear in the Planning Officer’s report, Lancashire’s business community continues to support the responsible exploration and development of shale gas because we believe it will generate jobs and much-needed investment in the local supply chain.

“Both individual householders and companies alike have a democratic right to appeal as part of the planning process. NWETF members fully support Cuadrilla’s decision to appeal.

“We urge the County Council to work with Cuadrilla to ensure that they can find the lowest cost option for Lancashire’s taxpayers.”

Friends of the Earth’s North West campaigner Furqan Naeem said: “Cuadrilla’s decision to appeal Lancashire’s Council’s resounding no to controversial fracking shows a blatant disregard for the views of local people and local democracy.

“Lancashire councillors and residents have rejected fracking and the Government’s recent report revealing potential negative impacts on everything from the health of residents, to house prices, to climate change shows they were right to do so.

“An appeal will put further pressure on residents who have been fighting to keep their community free from this filthy industry for four years now. Cuadrilla bullied their way into a second chance to make the case for fracking in January, they don’t need a third.

“David Cameron must stick to his commitment that fracking decisions belong with local councils and not allow Lancashire’s decisions to be overturned.”

Lee Petts, chief executive of the Onshore Energy Services Group, welcomed the announcement: “Whilst empathising with residents living nearest to the two sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood that will doubtless be disappointed by this latest development, job creating small companies in Lancashire and beyond - that depend on this sector to varying degrees - will be pleased that there is still hope a shale gas industry could develop here in the future.

“Right now, the continuing delays are disproportionately impacting British supply chain SMEs, with a number of them being forced to make cut-backs, including among skilled staff.

“Shale gas has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs, but we mustn’t lose sight of the jobs already supported by the onshore oil and gas industry, and the effect it can have on families when the main breadwinner suddenly finds themselves out of work for no fault of their own.”

Preston New Road Community Group said: “We are fully committed to joining the Council in resisting any appeal, and we have strong reasons to believe an appeal would be unsuccessful.

“We believe that the Council’s grounds for refusal were sound, valid in planning and legal terms, and upholdable at appeal. The barrister we instructed, Dr Ashley Bowes, confirmed that view not only to us in private, but in his presentation to the Development Control Committee on the 18th June and in his released comment on the legal position of the committee, on the 26th June. Our belief is strengthened by lawyers instructed by Friends of the Earth, by advice from barrister Estelle Dehon on the 18th June, and from Richard Harwood OBE QC on the 26th June.

“As Dr Bowes confirmed in his note of the 26th June, PNR Action Group would seek Rule 6 status in any appeal. We shall present our case with the utmost vigour. We shall assist the Council on the two reasons for refusal with evidence from independent noise experts, planning experts and a legal team. In turn we will be supported in any appeal by the contribution of many local and national groups who have helped and motivated us in the past, and by the many thousands of individuals who have likewise given us their goodwill, support and encouragement.

“It is a travesty for Francis Egan to claim this is the next stage in the democratic process. The local community has spoken. The Parish Council, the Borough Council and the Lancashire County Council have spoken. This is the true meaning of democracy which Mr Egan fails to understand.

“Mr Egan has now made this battle personal. The local community has suffered seventeen months of distress awaiting the outcome of the County Council’s decision. Now Mr Egan is wanting to renew the daily cycle of worry and sleepless nights. If this is his idea of democratic process then we can only pity his understanding of what his company’s actions really mean for our community.

“We shall be considering our action as to how the appeal should be handled and whether we shall be calling for a full public enquiry. We shall certainly be calling on our MP Mark Menzies to stand with us to oppose the appeal against the local democratic decision, as he has promised on numerous occasions”.

Roseacre Awareness Group said it was appalled that Cuadrilla was appealing against the decision by LCC to refuse permission to site a large scale fracking operation in the centre of the Fylde at Roseacre Wood.

“Not only have planners been warning Cuadrilla since it first submitted the application last year that the location is wholly unsuited to an operation on this scale but Cuadrilla boss, Francis Egan, championed the democratic process, ie the planning hearing, in the face of New York State’s letter to councillors urging them to refuse permission. In June Mr Egan urged New York to let Lancashire decide; in July he’s adding “but only if we get what we want”.

Mr Egan is happy to quote planners’ advice if he feels it is to his advantage, but to question it when it argued against the application, as at Roseacre Wood. This level of flexibility might be convenient but is hardly honourable. In fact, RAG believes planners have bent over backwards to assist Cuadrilla. Questions are being asked about whether the Report to councillors strayed (some say galloped) away from professional objective advice towards subjective and prejudicial posturing. Groups across the country are dissecting it, as are legal experts.

In the meantime, it is staggering that the elected members of our county council, who sat through hours of evidence and pored over a massive quantity of material should be subject to the industry’s bullying.

A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “We are aware of Cuadrilla’s announcement and will await formal confirmation of the appeals from the Planning Inspectorate.”