Fracking: big bill for county even though it defended position at public inquiry

The fracking site at Preston New Road which was given the go-ahead after an appeal in 2016
The fracking site at Preston New Road which was given the go-ahead after an appeal in 2016

Lancashire County Council faces “significant” costs for staging a public inquiry into a proposed fracking site in Roseacre Wood – in spite of winning the case.

But the work which went into the hearing means that the total amount cannot easily be calculated.

READ MORE >>> Residents' joy as fracking plan rejected in Roseacre Wood

The authority refused planning permission for the development – and another on Preston New Road – back in 2015.

Energy firm Cuadrilla appealed to the Department for Communities and Local Government, resulting in public inquiry twelve months later. The decision on the Preston New Road site was overturned by the then Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, who said he was “minded” also to allow the Roseacre Woods appeal if the firm could address concerns over highways safety.

A second inquiry into that single issue re-opened in April 2018 and lasted for four weeks. Cuadrilla’s appeal was rejected last month.

But a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s development control committee heard that the authority still had to foot the bill for staging the inquiry at Blackpool Football Club – and for all the work which went into presenting its case.

“It has cost the authority quite a lot,” head of planning, Andrew Mullaney, told members.

“In simple terms, we have got to organise everything upwards of the table cloths – the venue, the security, the officer evidence and the legal advice.

“We won, so no costs were awarded against us – but nevertheless we have those logistical and organisational costs.”

Speaking to the local democracy service after the meeting, Mr. Mullaney added that the total cost would be difficult to calculate.

“It’s significant, but we would not have recorded how much officer time was spent on the case – to some extent, it was just part of our normal day job and the activity came in peaks and troughs,” he explained.

Committee member Kevin Ellard wanted to know why costs could not be awarded against Cuadrilla,

Senior solicitor at County Hall, Jill Anderson, said that would only happen in “exceptional circumstances”

“Costs are awarded against a party for unreasonable behaviour – just because we were successful doesn’t mean we can ask the other side to pay our costs,” she said.

The councillor who was chair of the development control committee at the time of the week-long deliberation on the applications in 2015, said he wanted to congratulate officers for recommending it be refused in the first place.

“The officers were insistent that highways was the only issue we should [base the refusal on],” Munsif Dad said.

“There were quite a few other suggestions, like landscaping – but the reason we needed to stick to what the officers were saying was that was the only reason which was the correct one.

“People sometimes have a go at officers for various reasons – but they are usually right,” County Cllr Dad said.

In dismissing Cuadrilla’s appeal last month, Secretary of State James Brokenshire said the proposed Roseacre Wood site “would have a serious and very significant adverse impact on the safety of people using the public highway”.