Fracking has suffered a major setback in Lancashire after county councillors voted to refuse an application from energy company Cuadrilla to test frack at two locations on the Fylde.
Members of the Development Control Committee voted nine to two with two abstentions to reject the bid on the grounds of the adverse visual impact it would have amid the rural fields at the site and on grounds of noise nuisance.
We are delighted and so relieved. It has been 15 months of sheer hellPat Davies, Preston New Road Action Group
As the vote was announced, loud applause broke out on the public benches in the committee room at County Hall Preston as residents, many shedding tears of joy, others hugging each other, showed their relief.
Speaking afterwards Pat Davies from the Preston New Road Action Group said: “We are delighted and so relieved. It has been 15 months of sheer hell under the threat of this application.
“We have worked hard to present our evidence and followed due process and believe we have a strong case for defeating the application.
“We are so grateful for the efforts of Coun Paul Hayhurst who has argued so strongly against this application in the committee. He is a hero.
A tearful Elizabeth Warner from the PNRAG said: “It has been a real David and Goliath fight. We came from behind in this battle to win it after all the legal arguments last week.
“Pat is the real hero, she has chaired our campaign for 15 months and like so many of us has suffered stress and anxiety. Many of us moved to the countryside because of poor health and to have fracking near our homes would have been terrible.
“This battle has affected our health and it is a relief that it is over. They may appeal but we have strong evidence to challenge that.”
John Tootill from Maple Farm Nursery, close to the proposed fracking site off Preston New Road near Little Plumpton echoed the relief.
He said: “There is an immense sense of relief that this ridiculous threat has been lifted.
“I was against it on health grounds. I believe fracking would have been a threat to the health of all the people living near the site and my family.
“We had to fight this for the sake of the children. I am delighted we won and it has restored my faith in democracy.”
However, supporters of fracking said they were angry and disappointed at the councillors’ decision.
Lee Petts from the North West Energy Task Forces said he was angry that two extra legal submissions, from the residents and from Friends of the Earth had been shown to the committee members while one from shale gas industry body UKOOG had not.
He said: “My initial reaction is one of outrage. I asked if the members could be shown the legal submission but it was allowed.
“How can that be fair? It was a decision taken on emotion rather than on facts.
“Like any planning decision it is all about risks and opportunities and you have to look only at the facts. If there is no exploration then how can we know the true facts?”
Blackpool businessman Steve Pye said: “It is a decision that says that Lancashire is closed for business, closed for investment.
“Now Liverpool, Manchester and Yorkshire can step in and take the lead on fracking. Fracking may yet happen in Lancashire and we will be left with the disruption without any of the benefits of being in the lead.”
Francis Egan chief executive officer from Cuadrilla said he was disappointed and surprised at the decisions of the committee – but said the company would not give up on fracking in Lancashire.
He said the decision taken today seemed to be on the legal advice given by two outside bodies over the weekend and yet a third QC’s evidence from UKOOG was not shown to the committee members.
He said: “We will be looking closely at the decisions but we believe we have strong grounds to appeal.
“After what happened here in committee I can predict nothing, but we have six months to appeal and this process has been ongoing for 12 months now and we have agreed to five extensions which shows our commitment to a decision being made locally.
“This has been an extraordinarily exhaustive process we have the recommendation of the planning officers and the permits in place required from the regulators to go ahead so anyone with expertise has consented to it going ahead.”
The dramatic decision came after Fylde Councillor Paul Hayhurst submitted a motion to the committee to refuse the bid.
His motion came, he said, in the light of the row over the legal advice given verbally to the members in secret at the meeting last week which he said put pressure on the members to throw out the refusal motion originally made by Coun Kevin Ellard.
He said: “That advice was very strong , black and white in my opinion and suggested that if we voted for refusal it would be irresponsible, unreasonable and unlawful.”
That advice caused the committee to throw out the motion but he said when they asked for that advice in writing and it was shown to councillors a day later, it was not as strong.
He moved a second refusal motion which was seconded by Coun Ellard.
After a short adjournment so that all members could see the outside QC advice that had come over the weekend, the members returned.
Coun Barrie Yates said he disagreed with the refusal motion and said the application should go ahead as long as public liability insurance could be put in as a condition.
Coun Alan Schofield also argued against the motion saying the advice was substantially the same and they had voted on it already.
Coun Michael Green however spoke strongly to say the strength of the legal advice last week was different. He said it would not necessarily be argued that the council was being unreasonable in refusing the application and therefore liable to pay huge costs should the decision go to a Government Inspector at appeal.
He said the application would look unsightly in the area.
He added: On the basis of all the evidence I will be voting in support of the refusal of the application.”
After the vote, a second vote was taken which resulted in the refusal of the accompanying application to install seismic monitoring arrays in the area.
This came despite a similar application at Roseacre being passed for monitoring last week, just after the fracking test drilling application at Roseacre was refused.
Francis Egan said that this appeared illogical and that some people might think decision making was random.
Blackpool MP Gordon Marsden said: “This is a great victory for local democracy and recognises the serious concerns that still exist around the fracking process.
“It is a credit to the councillors for their careful consideration and thoroughness in the whole process.”