Planners make a U turn over fracking in Lancashire

Lancashire County Council planners have recommended that planning permission is granted for exploratory hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of four test wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire after advising it be refused in January. But it maintained its position on another nearby site recommending that the council’s Development Control Committee refuse permission over traffic concerns.

 “The application for Preston New Road has been recommended for approval, subject to a number of conditions controlling time limits, working programme, restriction on permitted development rights, highway matters, soil management, hours of working, safeguarding of water courses, control of noise, dust, lighting, security, ecology, archaeology, landscaping, restoration and aftercare,” said the planning department in a statement.

Energy firm Cuadrilla is the first company to file planning applications for exploratory fracking in the UK following the lifting of the year long moratorium on activity in December 2012. It proposes to carry out drilling, fracking and extended flow testing of gas with the potential for a direct connection to the local gas transmission pipeline, at sites located at Preston New Road and Roaseacre Wood in Lancashire.

Planners said that the application for Roseacre Wood had been recommended for refusal because “it would generate an increase in traffic, particularly HGV movements,that would result in an unacceptable impact on the rural highway network and on existing road users, particularly vulnerable road users and a reduction in overall highway safety that would be severe.”

The recommendations follow months of delays and is a change in direction from the planners who had previously advised that planning permission be refused over noise issues. Cuadrilla, supported by consultant Arup, then submitted further information on night time noise mitigation measures ensuring that levels were below those recommended by the World Health Organisation night noise guidelines. These proposals then had to be consulted on, delaying a final planning decision which was originally scheduled for late January 2015.

“We are pleased that Lancashire County Council’s Planning Officers have recommended that the Councils’ Development Control Committee grant planning consent for our application at Preston New Road,” said Cuadrilla in a statement. “In January 2015, Officers recommended refusal at Preston New Road only on grounds of night-time noise and we duly submitted additional information on mitigation measures, which was publicly consulted on, to further bring down noise levels well below limits set out in government guidance. We note that, as in January, the Planning Officer’s report is satisfied with all other aspects of the planning applications, in particular with regard to drilling and fracking.”

Following the January recommendations Cuadrilla also submitted further information on traffic routes for the Roseacre Wood site. “Whilst we remain confident that our original proposed route was adequate, the alternative route suggested also met with all necessary guidelines in our view.  We are disappointed that Officer’s do not support this in their negative recommendation.”

A planning decision for Preston New Road is scheduled to be made during Development Control Committee meetings on 23rd and 24th June and with further meetings to decide Roseacre Wood scheduled for 25th and 26th June.

Central government has already announced its commitment to the development of shale gas resources in England and is due to publish secondary legislation governing the emerging sector at the end of July. This is expected to clarify how groundwater protection zones will be treated as well as more clarity on which areas will be protected from development.

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