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Planning: the pig-in-the-middle of fracking

Ruth Hayhurst photo
Ruth HayhurstUK
Planning: the pig-in-the-middle of fracking
In this week’s newsletter, we look at how planning has become a battleground for drilling companies, their opponents and the government.

From her throne-like chair in court 18 at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, Mrs Justice Lang, said:

“In my judgement the claims require full consideration at a judicial review”

That ruling, given at lunchtime yesterday, allows Elizabeth Warner, an anti-fracking campaigner from Lancashire, to challenge a planning permission granted to the shale gas company, Cuadrilla.

The company had received consent from Lancashire County Council to install about 90 seismic and groundwater monitors around the Roseacre area in the Fylde near Blackpool. They were designed to provide information about any impact of Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking operation nearby at Roseacre Wood.

But the county council refused permission for the main fracking application and Mrs Warner, chair of the Roseacre Awareness Group, said there were flaws in the way the monitoring plans were approved.

She argued that councillors had been misdirected and misled in the advice they received from officers.

After the hearing, a delighted Mrs Warner said this was a “landmark moment”.

Double challenge

But the ruling was bad news for Lancashire County Council, which had argued there was no case for a judicial review. It now faces challenges from both the opponents of fracking and the fracking company itself.

As well as contesting the judicial review, the council will have to defend itself at a public inquiry at which Cuadrilla will appeal against four planning decisions related to fracking in Lancashire.

More details of the inquiry emerged this week. It is expected to last 12 days and will be held in Blackpool, starting on 9th February next year.

It won’t be a straight fight between the council and the company.

The Planning Inspectorate, which manages the inquiry, has allowed five other groups to take part, by granting them Rule 6 status. One is supporter of Cuadrilla’s plans (North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce) and four are opposed (Roseacre Awareness Group, Preston New Road Action Group, Roseacre, Treales and Wharles Parish Council and Friends of the Earth). All will be allowed to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.

For the council, the appeal won’t be straightforward. On two of the applications, councillors overruled the advice of the planning officer, Stuart Perigo, and refused permission. This means he won’t be able to give evidence for the council. Lancashire recently advertised a contract worth £100,000 for three month’s work preparing for the inquiry and presenting the council’s case.

Timings and targets

On the other side of the Pennines, in North Yorkshire, the planning system is under pressure from the government, campaign groups and Third Energy, which has applied for permission to frack at Kirby Misperton (see Byline column).

The government has given councils 16 weeks to decide oil and gas applications.

But residents at a meeting on Third Energy’s application earlier this month said this wasn’t long enough. They urged the local MP, Kevin Hollinrake, to persuade ministers to grant an extension.

The Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, told The Yorkshire Post last week that the county council should “stick to the rules” on the time taken to decide the application. And Third Energy’s operations director, John Dewar, said he expected a decision next month.

But the target date of 18th November 2015 now looks unlikely. A meeting of North Yorkshire’s planning committee on Tuesday heard that council officers need more information from Third Energy. Their letter itemising points that need to be addressed ran to more than 10 pages. When the company responds, there will be a 21-day public consultation on the new information.

Objections dispute

Added to this, North Yorkshire County Council has been criticised by anti-fracking campaigners over a press statement it made about objections to Third Energy’s planning application. The council alleged that it had received representations “en masse” by email and that these “had included emails and letters that were sent unbeknown to the owner of the email address or the named person on the letter”. It said it would involve the police if necessary.

The story was covered widely in the national print media. This week it emerged that two council solicitors told a lawyer for Frack Free Ryedale there was only one piece of correspondence that may not have been sent by the signatory and even this may not have related to the planning application.

Planning uncertainty

The planning system also got the blame in County Antrim this week, where Rathlin Energy announced it was giving up its oil and gas exploration licence. The company had applied for planning permission in 2013 to drill a second exploratory oil well at Ballinlea. But the Department of Environment, which controls planning in Northern Ireland, had said the application was on hold awaiting an environmental statement.

Rathlin Energy’s managing director, David Montagu-Smith, said:

“The immediate cause for our decision is the length and complexity of the process for securing planning permission for the second exploration well we need to drill to evaluate the results of our first well at Ballinlea."

“Regrettably, we have no sense of knowing when there will be a determination of the application.”

Rathlin’s licence expires in April 2016 and the company said it did not have time to complete its work programme.

What to watch next week

Tuesday 27th October: an obscure House of Commons committee meets to discuss the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) regulations 2015. The members, only one of whom has oil and gas licences in their constituencies, will decide where fracking will be permitted in protected areas. As they stand, the regulations allow fracking in Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 1,200m deep under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Visit for daily updates on fracking, the onshore oil and gas industry and the reactions to it.

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