Rural residents today called on county councillors to back planning officers’ recommendations and throw out bids to explore for shale gas on the Fylde coast.
Their call comes after a report to Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee recommended refusal of two bids from energy company Cuadrilla to drill, frack and test the flow of gas at Roseacre and near Preston New Road at Little Plumpton.
The officers’ decision is a significant blow to shale supporters’ hopes of developing a fracking industry on the Fylde as it is expected to carry weight when the councillors meet next Wednesday and Thursday to consider the plans.
The planners cited concerns over noise levels from the process at night which could affect neighbouring properties at both sites and traffic concerns at Roseacre.
The news has been greeted with delight by residents and groups opposed to fracking, but supporters of the gas extraction process have described the report as a “disappointing setback”.
Supporters of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing – the technique in which water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas – say it would bring energy security to Britain and create thousands of much-needed jobs.
But opponents say fracking would change the Fylde from a rural area into an industrial one and would damage the environment and affect local residents.
The County Hall report states 8,924 objections were received to the fracking site proposals at Roseacre – almost 6,000 from outside Lancashire.
A total of 11,125 people objected to fracking plans at Little Plumpton – 6,038 from outside the region.
As the report was published, protesters were demonstrating outside County Hall and a petition of more than 6,000 people was being handed in calling on Lancashire County Council Leader Jennifer Mein to oppose plans for fracking in the county.
n With regards to Roseacre, planners concluded:
“The principle of exploration and appraisal for shale gas would be acceptable and that in the proposed location impacts on air quality; archaeology and cultural heritage; greenhouse gas emissions; community and socio economics; ecology; hydrogeology and ground gas; induced seismicity and subsidence; land use; landscape and visual amenity; lighting; resources and waste; water resources or public health (except for noise) would be low or could be mitigated and controlled by condition to make them acceptable.
“However, it is considered that the proposed development in this location would lead to a significant increase in night time background noise levels and consequently it is likely this would have significant adverse effects on the health and quality of life and lead to an unacceptable loss of residential amenity to those residents at Old Orchard Farm and potentially beyond.
“Such effects and loss would be contrary to the National Planning Policy Guidance on noise, Policy DM2 of the Joint Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan – Site Allocation and Development Management Policies and Policy EP27 of the Fylde Borough Local Plan. Consequently and for this reason it is considered that on balance the proposal would be unacceptable and should be refused.”
n And, for Little Plumpton, County Hall planners said:
“It is considered that the proposed development in this location would lead to a significant increase in night-time background noise levels and consequently it is likely that this would have significant adverse effects on the health and quality of life and lead to an unacceptable loss of residential amenity to those residents at the nearest residential properties of Staining Wood Cottages, Staining Farm and Foxwood Chase.
“Such effects and loss would be contrary to the National Planning Policy Guidance on noise, Policy DM2 of the Joint Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan – Site Allocation and Development Management Policies and Policy EP27 of the Fylde Borough Local Plan.
“Consequently, and for this reason alone, it is considered that on balance the proposal would be unacceptable and should be refused.”
Diane Evans from the Preston New Road Action Group, who have been campaigning against the application at Little Plumpton off the A583, said members shed tears of joy when they heard the news planning officers had recommended refusal of the two bids to carry out exploratory fracking.
She said: “We are absolutely delighted we just can’t believe it. I was in tears when I heard. The way things have been going we expected the planning officers to recommend allowing the pending application so we are surprised but delighted.
“The councillors should take their advice and reject the proposals.
“I know we have been portrayed by some as just a bunch of activists but we are not we are the ordinary people who live here.
“We have had to become experts in a way and we have sought the help of experts in many fields such as noise, waste and the environment but we really are just the people who would have to live with this. I am just a mother not a professional so it has been a hard struggle.
“We know there is still a long, long way to go and the councillors could vote for fracking and, either way there was always likely to be an appeal, but this is wonderful news.
“We still have a mountain to climb but this is a leg up for us.”
She added their group would still be continuing to prepare to make their presentation on Friday ahead of the Development Control Committee meetings where county councillors will vote on whether to allow energy company Cuadrilla to explore for gas at the two sites.
Barbara Richardson of the Roseacre Awareness Group said the issue of extra heavy goods vehicles on Roseacre’s tiny rural roads was crucial.
She told The Gazette: “We were shocked by the decision to be honest. We did not think the planning officers were listening to us. There are serious issues in Roseacre with the traffic and the noise and we do not believe that these can be overcome.
“It is common sense that the roads around Roseacre are totally unsuitable for this kind of industrialisation.
“We do not think the traffic problems can be mitigated by Cuadrilla so we don’t think they can overcome that planning objection.
“We also don’t believe the noise issue can be overcome either. There are certain types of noise that they have not yet taken into consideration. We do not think they can reduce the noise levels at a fracking site to levels which would be acceptable to residents.
“It is a shame they don’t appear to have considered the seismic or health issues as a reason to refuse permission. We are working with the director of public health at the moment and he has grave reservations about fracking in areas such as these.
“We will be working on our presentation for the councillors next week even though we have not much time since this report came out. We shall be providing evidence to back up our claims and we hope they will also be taken into account.
“We are cautiously optimistic. However, we have already been asked by some people from elsewhere in Lancashire wondering if it isn’t going to happen here will Cuadrilla put an application where they live?
“We just want the councillors to follow the planners’ conclusions .
“But we expect that if the councillors vote to reject the applications then Cuadrilla will appeal which will take place after the election.
“I think the Government should not interfere. They should leave the decision to the local council who know the areas best.”
Bob Dennett, from the Residents Against Fylde Fracking and Frack Free Lancashire campaign groups, said the planning officers’ recommendation was a “huge” moment.
“It still hinges on what the councillors have to say but they tend to be guided by the officers,” he said.
“Hopefully they will refuse it but even if they do we know the battle will be far from over because Cuadrilla will appeal.
“I was surprised by the recommendation but it’s refreshing to know that the officers have taken note of the more than 30,000 objections, including the Public Health England report.”
But the recommendations sparked dismay among the business community.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, called on councillors to reverse the decision, saying: “Natural gas from North West shale could be a massive opportunity for growth, investment, jobs and revenues in our region.”
Cuadrilla vows to ‘resolve’ issues
Cuadrilla boss Francis Egan said he was confident the gas firm could “resolve” the issues raised by County Hall and get a “positive tick” on the plans.
The company released a statement soon after yesterday’s report was published stating it was “disappointed” by the recommendations.
A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Officers have recommended refusal at Preston New Road only on grounds of night-time noise and at Roseacre Road on noise and traffic concerns. We note that the Planning Officer’s report is satisfied with all other aspects of the planning applications.
“Our applications are to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells at each of our proposed sites.
“After an extraordinarily lengthy period of consultation and review of around seven months we are surprised that, at this late point, the planning team at the County Council has raised objections about background noise for both sites.
“We believe, supported by independent experts Arup, that we have come forward with measures that would mitigate noise of drilling and fracturing and the proposed noise levels are within the limits set out in government guidance.
“For our application at Roseacre Wood we had already supplied within the last week extra information regarding traffic routes which we and our expert advisers believe addresses all the new issues which have recently been raised.
“In the end the councillors will have to weigh the relatively minor impacts... against the wider local and national economic and energy security benefits.”
If councillors refuse the applications next week, Cuadrilla can consider the grounds for refusal and decide whether to appeal.
Green activists welcome views
Friends Of The Earth’s North West campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “We are delighted the planning officers have recognised the serious effects these developments would have on neighbouring residents and have recommended that Lancashire County Council refuses these applications.
“Councillors must now act on this and the tens of thousands of objections they have received and reject Cuadrilla’s fracking applications next week.
“Only by doing so will they ensure that fracking is not allowed to cause further climate change while also putting communities and the local environment at risk.”
Greenpeace energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale said: “Many thousands of people in Lancashire are seriously worried about the potential risks of fracking.
“The concerns about noise and traffic brought up by the planners are a reminder that fracking could be a lot of pain for very little or no gain for communities in Lancashire.”
County Hall view ‘a set-back for job creation on the Fylde
The North West Energy Task Force, a coalition of 500 businesses and academics, said: “This is potentially a disappointing set-back for job creation in the North West.
“As Monday’s report by the Centre for Cities shows, Blackpool has fewer businesses in 2013 than in 2004 and 10 per cent fewer jobs, and therefore has a pressing need for growth and investment to boost job creation.
“This is what members of the Development Control Committee should have in mind next week, especially given the Environment Agency’s recent decision to grant a permit for exploration.”
Task Force spokesman and Lancashire businessman, Lee Petts, said: “This announcement is a disappointing set back. But it shows that shale gas exploration can be undertaken safely and responsibly in the right locations, while being sensitive to people’s concerns. The main concerns for planners were no different to those associated with other construction and civil engineering projects. I’m sure the hundreds of businesses that registered with the new online supply chain portal last week, seeking potential contracting opportunities, will be especially disappointed given that shale gas and other forms of energy extraction have the potential to create jobs and boost investment.”
He added: “Natural gas from North West shale could be a massive opportunity for growth, investment, jobs and revenues in our region.
“The (County Hall) announcements are obviously disappointing, but we await the decision of the Development Control Committee next week, and call on councillors to grasp this opportunity to create the jobs and investment that Lancashire badly needs.”