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Fracking approval causes dissent

Published: Thursday, 13th October 2016

Environmentalists and Lancashire residents angered by the government’s decision to allow proposals involving fracking, originally refused by the county council…

The UK government has triggered an outcry from environmentalists and many Lancashire residents; by backing on appeal proposals from energy company Cuadrilla, involving fracking originally refused by the county council.

Four appeals were lodged covering two proposed exploration sites: at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood near Preston. Each exploration site had two linked appeals, one covering the well pad, drilling and fracturing activities, while the other provided for seismic monitoring over a wider area.

Both elements of the Preston New Road scheme have been approved, the first time the administration has relied on its new “recovery” and “call-in” powers to authorise a hydraulic fracturing well.

For the Roseacre Wood scheme, the initial outcome was more nuanced. The seismic array has been approved, but the drilling and exploratory work has been deferred for further consideration.

The planning inspector who held the recovered inquiries had recommended that the drilling activity at Roseacre Wood should be refused on highway safety grounds. In respect of the other three appeals the inspector had recommended the plans should be allowed.

However, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said he was “minded” to approve the appeal subject to further evidence on the question of road safety issues. The inquiry will be reopened to consider that topic only.

His decision letter stressed that the proposals represented “sustainable development”. He pointed out that the development was backed by a written ministerial statement made to Parliament.

The letter detailed that the Secretary of State “considers that the national need for shale gas exploration is a factor of great weight and that the local economic benefits of the proposal carry little positive weight in support of this appeal. He has given careful consideration to the objections raised, but is content that the matters of concern could be satisfactorily controlled by planning conditions or by other regulatory regimes, and as such, they can be attributed little negative weight in the planning balance. “

County councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for planning, said: "The Secretary of State's decision to allow more time to consider issues related to highway safety around the Roseacre site reflects the committee's concerns on this issue.”

An anti-fracking campaigner has already launched a crowdfunding campaign for a legal challenge to the government’s decision.

Planning consultancy Turley, who marshalled Cuadrilla’s planning and environmental case, said last week’s decisions demonstrated two key points. “Firstly, that the government does intend to back up its policy intentions to support the development of a shale gas industry in the UK. Secondly, that the process itself can be undertaken, with the appropriate regulation and mitigation in place, without causing unacceptable harm. The next step for industry is to prove that the resource can be commercially recovered.”

Read the decision letter

Roger Milne