In a move welcomed by environmental groups yesterday (25 June), the Council’s Development Control Committee voted to refuse the application by oil and gas firm Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas at one of its two planned sites. Councillors will meet again on Monday to consider proposals for another site at Preston New Road.

The rejection followed planning officers’ recommendations that the proposed drilling site would have a severe impact on the local road network.

In a statement, Cuadrilla said the firm was “disappointed but not surprised” at the decision for the Rosacre Wood site.

“We are committed to the responsible exploration and development of the huge quantity of natural gas locked up in the shale rock deep underneath Lancashire. We will now take time to consider our options, including our right to appeal.”

The firm asserted its application demonstrated “beyond question that the operations can and will be conducted safely and without damage to people’s health or their environment.”

Cuadrilla’s statement concluded: “If we can unlock this shale gas potential it will help create jobs, generate economic growth, help fuel and heat local businesses and homes to boost local tax revenues for Lancashire.”

Legal risk

Ahead of the decision on a second site at Preston New Road, the council received written legal advice suggesting if Cuadrilla’s application was refused the decision could be overturned on appeal.

The letter from David Manley QC said: “While a refusal which is not back by substantial objective evidence cannot be described as unlawful, it nonetheless can readily be described as unreasonable.”

The letter added there was a high risk a “cost penalty” could be imposed on the council in the event of a successful appeal. Planning officers had previously given the council a positive recommendation for fracking at Preston New Road.

Following the vote, county councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for the environment, said: “Each member of the committee has ultimately cast their vote on the evidence they have heard and whether they think the proposal is acceptable.”

Environment first

Green campaigners and protestors welcomed the council’s decision to reject the application and called on them to reject the second application when the council meets on Monday.

Friends of the Earth north west campaigner Furqan Naeem said:  “This is a tremendous victory for local people and everyone across Lancashire and the UK who have been tirelessly highlighting the risks fracking poses to their quality of life and the climate. 

“But the fracking threat still hangs ominously over the community near Preston New Road. 

“Poll after poll shows people want renewables, not fracking – and the clean energy and long term jobs they would provide.

“Lancashire councillors must put local people and our environment first and reject Cuadrilla’s controversial application when they meet next Monday.”

The decision whether to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Lancashire would mark the first UK fracking operation in four years. Wales and Scotland both announced a moratorium on fracking earlier this year. 

Matt Field

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