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Lancashire fracking decision delay

Published 24/06/2015

Fracking has proven a divisive issue
Fracking has proven a divisive issue

Councillors have deferred a decision on a planning application to frack for shale gas in Lancashire until next Monday.

They voted for more time to consider further legal advice on the proposal by energy firm Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas by by drilling, fracking and testing the flow of gas at a site in Little Plumpton, between Preston and Blackpool.

Earlier the meeting of Lancashire County Council's development control committee heard that councillors had been under "intolerable pressure" in making the final ruling on the controversial process of releasing gas.

A report from planning officials had recommended the Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton be passed subject to a number of conditions being met such as hours of working, control of noise and highway matters.

Committee members will still meet at County Hall tomorrow and Friday to rule on plans by Cuadrilla for a second site on the Fylde at Roseacre Wood, Roseacre.

Planning officials recommended that application be turned down because of the increase in traffic which would result in ''an unacceptable impact'' on rural roads and reduce road safety.

Councillors will reconvene on the Preston New Road application next Monday at 10am.

Passing both applications would enable fracking at the sites following drilling at up to four exploration wells, but a separate application would be required if Cuadrilla wished to progress to commercial fracking.

Fracking was suspended in the UK in 2011 following earth tremors in Blackpool where Cuadrilla previously drilled.

After debating the Preston New Road application and following legal advice in private, the committee's deputy chairman, county councillor Kevin Ellard (Labour) put forward a motion to reject it on the grounds it did not meet various local planning guidelines, such as visual impact and landscape.

The vote was split at 7-7 but the motion was turned down following a casting vote by committee chairman, county councillor Munsif Dad.

In response, county councillor Paul Hayhurst (Independent) told the hearing that the outcome of that vote would be "a shock" to most people in the room.

He said: "The fact is that members of the committee have been given legal advice that have tied their hands and it has been a waste of time us being here the last few days.

"I think that the legal advice must be shown to the public."

A motion was then passed which said the legal advice given be published, and that more advice should be taken on another aspect of planning policy in relation to sustainable minerals and waste development.

The meeting was then adjourned until 4.30pm but the requested legal advice had not arrived at that point and with the clock ticking another motion was put forward to defer any decision on the application until Monday.

By the time the advice arrived at near to 5pm the councillors decided it was too late in the day to make a decision.

Members of the committee and a confused public were told that the legal advice would be available to view tomorrow morning.

Arguing for the deferral, Mr Hayhurst said: "I am conscious of the time at the end of a very heavy day, we will be given information that will take some time to assimilate.

"It would be absolutely irresponsible for us as a council to make a decision when people have only had a few minutes to discuss the advice.

"We would be failing in our duty if we did not."

He added that the residents also needed the opportunity to consult with their lawyers about the advice.

The matter had previously been deferred in January after Cuadrilla requested more time to submit further information on their proposals after planning officials originally turned down the applications.

Mr Hayhurst said: "The fact is that if we defer for the applicants, we can defer for the residents."

His comment drew loud applause from the public gallery.

Earlier, county councillor Marcus Johnstone (Labour) warned that the reasons to reject had to be sustainable or they would lose the decision on appeal.

He said: "Ultimately we must make the decision in accordance with planning law.

"It needs to be made very clear that it is council taxpayers' money that will be committed if is not sustainable."

He added: "This is one of the biggest planning applications that ourselves and any other authority has ever been asked to meet on.

"I think it is fair to say that members have been under intolerable pressure.

"I, for one, did not have a very good sleep last night."

Planning officer Stuart Perigo said: "The strong advice has been, is that there are no sustainable reasons for refusal.

"It is the prerogative for members not to share those recommendations but the concerns must be sustainable."

The committee returns tomorrow when they consider afresh the second planning application at Roseacre.

Francis Egan, chief executive officer of Cuadrilla, said: "As with all planning applications there is a procedure and process which is ongoing and as the applicant we await a final determination."

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