Controversy continues as second '˜pre-fracking' planning application is rejected

Councillors have thrown out a controversial planning application which could have paved the way for fracking in the Rotherham district, going against the advice of their planning officers.

Friday, 7th September 2018, 11:55 am
Updated Friday, 7th September 2018, 12:01 pm
Success: Campaigners who have fought to keep fracking related drilling out of Woodsetts persuaded councillors the application was flawed

Councillors have thrown out a controversial planning application which could have paved the way for fracking in the Rotherham district, going against the advice of their planning officers.

Energy firm Ineos had an earlier application to drill a test well in the area rejected earlier this year and came back with a fresh application addressing the reasons given for the previous decision.

The company has already taken a similar application for a well in the village of Harthill to appeal, with an inspector finding in the company's favour and councillors were told that since then national guidance had been changed by the Government, favouring shale gas extraction.

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The decision by councillors was met with cheers from the public gallery.

Councillors cited the proximity of the site to old peoples' homes, safety surrounding highways issues and ecological concerns as reasons to reject the application, though the exact form of their objections still has to be drawn up, as the reasons they provide must be capable of being defended at a public inquiry.

The application did not allow for fracking, which would need a further planning application to be approved, but for the sinking of a test well. That would allow experts to establish whether there is shale gas in the area to an extent where it could be released.

If that was the case, the Woodsetts well would then be used as '˜listening well' as part of the safety process to allow scientists to monitor underground conditions during any fracking process which might follow.

Earlier this year the planning board rejected an application on environmental grounds and because of road safety concerns.

Since then more ecological information has been provided by Ineos and that has been enough to satisfy council planning officers, who recommended the application should be approved.

The meeting heard from a range of objectors, including the Woodsetts Against Fracking organisation, residents, a ward councillor and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, raising concerns about road safety, the health impact of the proposal and the ecological impact of the development.

CPRE spokesman Andy Tickle told the meeting the ecological information provided by Ineos was inadequate and said: 'We are particularly concerned that the bat survey is inadequate.

'It would be extremely close to a suite of bat species which are extremely light in tolerance. Without informtion on roost locations it is simply not possible to assess the impact on these species. This must be resolved before permission is granted,' he said.

Resident Matthew Wilkinson raised concerns about the health implication for children at the school on emissions which would be generated from the site with some, he said, being harmful to humans.

'This site will pour tonnes of toxic gasses all over these children's playground,' he said and told councillors the situation was 'a mass child safeguarding issue'.

Objectors raised fears that increased traffic would cause highway safety problems, including the effect of having more lorries on roads in the area.

They said the presence of lorries could affect the school at opening and closing time as well as causing congestion on roads used by the emergency services and making journeys more difficult for commuters.

However, Rotherham Council highways officials believe the roads are suitable to take the traffic and rejected those concerns.

The Woodsetts Against Fracking group has concerns about the close proximity of the entrance to the site to Burns Square, housing where people with a wide range of health issues live.

Spokesman Ian Scholey said an alternative entrance was ruled out on the grounds it would mean destroying hedgerows. 'Hedgerows can be re-instituted, people cannot.

'Are we now saying hedgerows are more important than vulnerable people?'

Coun Bob Walsh said he could see no basis in planning law for turning down the application, accepting that it would not be popular with residents.

The root of objections was with Government policy on mineral extraction and energy provision, which should be addressed through Parliament, he said.

Ineos had submitted information the the council stating that accepting the application could avoid the expense of going to a public inquiry.

Coun Jennifer Whysall described that as 'breathtaking arrogance'.

She told the meeting: 'It is patronising. I ran out of adjectives I could apply to it. It sounds vaguely threatening,' she said.

Coun John Williams said he had concerns about a range of issues raised by objectors, but said he would vote for the application, stating: 'I have a bigger fear, we have judge this against national planning policy, I am fearful there isn't one strong planning consideration to justify refusal.

'Planning authorities are somewhat backed into a corner when it comes to fracking and applications like these.'