There were emotional scenes in the council chamber at County Hall Preston as councillors voted to defer a decision on energy company Cuadrilla’s application to test frack at Preston New Road.
After a day dogged by discussion on legal issues and a series of adjournments, County Councillor Paul Hayhurst moved a motion to defer until Monday morning.
Councillors were concerned about a motion by Coun Kevin Ellard to throw out Cuadrilla’s application on the grounds of the visual impact it would have on the rural nature of the Fylde which was itself defeated after private discussions with County Hall lawyers.
An angry Coun Hayhurst then asked for that legal advice to be made public so that residents could see why councillors had “their hands tied” and voted to reject Coun Ellard’s refusal motion.
Councillors waited for a written draft of those reasons and when that finally arrived at the end of the day, councillors again voted for a deferral so that residents’ legal teams could view the details and react accordingly.
It is the first of two hearings which are seen as being crucial to the future of the shale gas industry in the county.
On Thursday, the committee will return to the chamber to hear evidence on a sister bid at Roseacre.
Planning officers had recommended acceptance of the Preston New Road bid on planning grounds but refusal of the Roseacre bid due to traffic problems.
Cuadrilla says that fracking can be done safely and will deliver jobs and energy security for the country.
Opponents say it could cause pollution issues and would change the nature of the countryside turning it industrial.
Speaking after the Preston New Road Hearing Pat Davies of the Preston New Road Action Group said: “I am appalled and very frustrated by what has happened today.
“We have now only two days to see this legal advice given to the council in secret. I would like to thank Coun Hayhurst for pushing so hard to get this advice made public so people can see how and why their council is making these decisions.”
Alan Toothill from PNRAG said: “Our local community will be distraught at the decision today. We have been through 15 months of agony, worry by day and sleepless nights.
“We put forward the best possible argument for refusal, which we believe is unanswerable. Only last week the committee members heard from two barristers and experts who supported our case in the clearest legal and technical terms.
Now yet again we are asked to wait.”