Fracking decision: deferral and delay
Yesterday, at a determination hearing, councillors on the Development Control Committee in Lancashire agreed to defer a decision on two planning applications for shale gas exploration submitted last year by Cuadrilla Resources, after receiving advice from Lancashire County Council’s legal chief.
It comes after planning officers last week made a recommendation to refuse the applications on the grounds of potential noise and traffic impacts, in response to which the applicant reasonably put forward what it believed was ‘substantive’ new information concerning its plans that it felt would further mitigate concerns. In such circumstances, planning law dictates that the proposals are consulted on for a period of 21 days, and in order to accommodate this, the applicant requested the determination hearings be deferred.
Yesterday, the Development Control Committee convened the first of two determination hearings at which members of the public and other interested stakeholders were invited to make a series of short addresses to the Committee, with a decision expected at some point during the day on plans to drill, frack and test the flow of gas at Preston New Road near Little Plumpton.
However, during a 90 minute adjournment, councillors on the Committee sought legal advice concerning the request for a deferral.
Following the adjournment, County Secretary and Chief Legal Adviser Ian Young said:
“As Committee members are aware, during the course of the last few days, the applicant has submitted additional information in relation to both applications. In relation to Preston New Road, new proposals in relation to noise mitigation have been received. In relation to Roseacre, proposals in relation to both noise mitigation and traffic measures have been received. That information of course relates directly to the grounds for refusal recommended by officers.
“The applicant has in each case submitted that this information is of a substantive nature and should therefore be the subject of public consultation as required by regulation 22 of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. In those circumstances the applicant has requested that both applications be deferred so the additional information can be assessed by the council and therefore considered by the Committee.
“The applicant’s request for deferral and their submissions in support of the request have been considered carefully by officers, in particular the legal basis for the request. Having done so, and with the benefit of advice from leading council, my unequivocal advice to the Committee is that the proposals now submitted by the applicant in respect of both noise and traffic must be regarded as substantive information. It therefore follows that the proposals must be advertised and consulted on by the council.
“In these circumstances my advice to the Committee is that the determination of both applications must be deferred. Not to do so would in my view mean that the council would be acting unlawfully.
“If the Committee were not to accept my advice, then in my view the applicant would have clear grounds to challenge a refusal to defer and a legal challenge would inevitably be successful, leading to both further delay and cost consequences for the council.”
The announcement was met with applause from residents and others in the chamber that attended the hearings to express opposition to the plans.
Before a motion was moved to defer, Councillor Marcus Johnstone (Labour) said he regretted that people at today’s meeting would not be able to make representations but said that they would be able to do so when the Committee reconvened.
Councillor Paul Hayhurst (Independent) said that there were many councillors who were not happy about having to follow the advice for a deferment and expressed concerns over the time, effort and expense that people had invested in order to present to the committee.
OESG interim chief executive, and local businessman Lee Petts, was present at the hearing to speak in favour of the proposals. Lee is also a panellist on the North West Energy Task Force. Speaking to BBC North West Tonight after the deferral announcement, he expressed his disappointment at the outcome and said: “It’s another delay, and that causes more anxiety for residents and more uncertainty for businesses.”
The Chief Legal Adviser also warned: “If my advice is accepted and the decision is deferred, the Committee should also be aware that it is likely to be a minimum of eight weeks before the Committee would be able to reconvene to consider the application.”