FRACKING D-DAY: Eight more weeks until decision

Residents and anti-fracking protesters were left disappointed – some in tears – after Lancshire County Council voted to delay a decision on whether to allow fracking to go ahead in rural Fylde.

County Hall’s Development Control Committee said it had no option under law but to put back its decision after gas firm Cuadrilla submitted an application for a deferral.

Photo Neil Cross'The anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

Photo Neil Cross'The anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

Planning officers last week recommended refusal for two fracking sites at Roseacre and Little Plumpton, on noise grounds for both, and concerns over traffic at Roseacre.

Cuadrilla boss Francis Egan said the firm had not been given vital information on noise levels, which the firm wanted to react to.

After taking advice from the county lawyer the committee ‘reluctantly’ voted for a deferral which could now mean a delay of at least eight weeks before they return to consider the application.

The decision came as Fylde MP Mark Menzies voted against his own party this week for a 30-week moratorium on the controversial process, stating more information was needed regarding regulation and monitoring of the industry.

He was joined today by Fylde leisure giant Ribby Hall Village, which has called for safety pledges to be made on the process.

Mr Menzies said: “I want to see all of the questions answered before we go any further.”
Chairman of the committee County Councillor Munsif Dad apologised to residents, campaigners and supporters of fracking for the deferral but said doing otherwise would have left them open to legal challenge.

All applications, Preston New Road, Roseacre and association applications for monitoring have been put back so that officers and councillors can consider noise and traffic mitigation amendments from Cuadrilla.

Speaking in the hearing Fylde West County Councillor Paul Hayhurst said: “There are a lot of councillors here very unhappy about having to do this.

“There has been quite a lot of discussion already and people from the Fylde and elsewhere have taken a lot of time and put in a lot of effort for this hearing and we are very concerned that we have to defer this.”

Councillors voted a majority to defer the hearing with just one abstention and one councillor voting against.

A statement from Cuadrilla said: “We recognise the careful consideration that Lancashire county council has given and its subsequent agreement to our request to defer the determination of our planning applications for shale gas exploration at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.

“The additional information we have provided on further mitigation measures will, we believe, fully address the noise and traffic concerns raised by the Planning Officer’s in their recommendation to refuse planning permission for both sites.”

After the meeting an emotional Pat Davies from the Preston New Road Action Group said: “I’m not really surprised but we are all very disappointed in this deferral. We were hopeful that LCC could have continued but we feel they were held hostage by Cuadrilla and they were forced to act. But the fight will go on. I believe the mood of the country is changing away from fracking and we believe we can still win.”

Helen Rimmer from Lancashire Friends of the Earth said: “We are very disappointed. However, this will give us more time however to build our case and grow support even further across Lancashire. When it comes back to committee councillors must reject this application to frack. The fight goes on.”

An earlier bid for a 30-month moratorium was defeated in Parliament this week.

Mark Menzies said he supported it as more questions needed answering before shale gas drilling – or fracking – is allowed to go ahead.

The Fylde MP said: “The key reason I supported it (the moratorium) is there is a whole range of ongoing issues – the announcement last week that the British Geological Survey will carry out monitoring. I want to see more details.

“The Environment Agency announced it was committed to carrying out spot checks. I want to know more details.

“The Chancellor has also been talking about a ‘sovereign wealth fund for the north.’ I want to see more details.

“The sensible thing is to stop and take a look at all of these things.

“We should not try and thrash it all out, these things should be looked at and sorted out beforehand.”

Mr Menzies said the protective framework had to be right before he considered supporting fracking.

He added: “I raised four years ago, when I held an adjournment debate on fracking in Parliament, that I would like to see an independent panel of experts look at how the whole industry operates; the regulations from the Environment Agency and various other bodies from the start to the finish of the process (so they) are fit for purpose.

“The Government is moving towards that direction but I want to see more commitment and more policing in place.”

Asked whether he still backed fracking as an industry, Mr Menzies added: “Even now it’s too early a stage to 
say.

“The key thing is to look at the cumulative impact, not just one potential site but three or four sites on an 
area.

“There’s still more work to be done. It’s really important we look at this objectively and take our time. There is no need to rush this decision.

“I want to see all of the questions answered before we go any further.”