A Manchester anti-fracking campaigner believes Lancashire council may have been ‘bullied’ into deferring the decision on whether or not to approve two new sites in the county, putting ‘basic democracy on hold’.
The decision – due to be made this week after planning officers’ recommendations that Lancashire County Council turn down the proposals from Cuadrilla due to noise and traffic – has been deferred for eight weeks.
Cuadrilla is a gas and oil production company based in the UK, best known for its efforts to develop shale gas in the country.
However, on Wednesday, Cuadrilla submitted revised proposals. The proposals were described as ‘substantive’ by LCC’s chief legal advisor Ian Young and he recommended the proposals go out to public consultation.
Councillors on the planning committee reluctantly accepted the legal advice and agreed to defer the proposals.
Martin Porter, Communications Officer at Frack Free Greater Manchester was disappointed with the decision.
He told MM: “We’re not happy about it. We believe the councillors were looking to reject the decision for planning permission but it looks like Cuadrilla turned up with their lawyer and they demanded that the council go into secret session.
“They then, presumably, put such a threat of a legal challenge against the council that the council’s legal officers recommended that the decision be deferred, otherwise they would have had expensive legal challenges to deal with.
“It’s frustrating that basic democracy has been put on hold thanks to a corporate lawyer. There was no doubt which direction the decision was leaning given the opposition outside the chamber yesterday, no doubt at all.”
Politicians lifted a nationwide ban on fracking in 2012, a controversial method of extracting gas and oil from shale rock through drilling.
Cuadrilla’s proposals to drill and frack wells at the Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road sites are the first planning applications since the ban was lifted.
Councillor Marcus Johnstone said, “It’s with the greatest of regrets that I do have to move the deferral. The legal advice could not be clearer that we would be acting unlawfully and the authority could incur substantial costs.
“I move this with the heaviest of hearts. I regret enormously that all the people here today and all the people who are outside to exercise their democratic right, should this be passed, will not be able to do so. I have deep concern that the uncertainty for the communities involved will continue.”
Councillor Steven Holgate added: “Some people have had heavy hearts, some people have been frustrated, I am just downright angry.
“I feel that we as the planning committee are being undermined to an extent and I feel that there are too many people dipping their fingers into responsibilities which are not theirs.”
The ban on fracking was enforced when Cuadrilla caused earth tremors at Preese Hall in Lancashire, the only shale gas well ever to be fracked in the UK.
Since it was lifted, the company have expressed frustration at the slow progress of their planning applications.
A spokesman told MM: “The additional information we have provided on further mitigation measures will, we believe, fully address the noise and traffic concerns.
“There will now be an opportunity for the public to properly review and comment on this. We remain committed to the exploration of shale gas in Lancashire.”
Hundreds of campaigners gathered outside County Hall in Preston on Wednesday morning to protest against Cuadrilla’s plans and were hopeful that the proposals would be refused.
However, despite the delay, Martin remains confident that the two new fracking sites will not get planning permission.
He said: “It’s only deferred and we’ll be back again in March and then we will see. Given the entire feeling against fracking in Lancashire, the council aren’t going to go against those opinions or their own planning officer and it would be unprecedented for them to bow to Cuadrilla now.
“The delay doesn’t really serve Cuadrilla either, they’re just postponing the inevitable. It’s frustrating but the momentum is clearly with the anti-fracking campaign at the moment.”