Campaigners have vowed to keep fighting after controversial plans to carry out exploratory drilling in a north Derbyshire village were approved.
The Planning Inspectorate has granted chemicals company Ineos permission to drill a vertical hydrocarbon exploratory core well on land off Bramley Moor Lane, Marsh Lane, near Eckington, in order to extract rock samples for testing to see if it is viable to extract gas.
The decision means that fracking could eventually take place at the site depending on the outcome of the testing.
Inspector Elizabeth Hill, appointed on behalf of the Government, concluded in her report: “I have taken into account all of the representations made. I have found that there would be slight harm in terms of the living conditions of neighbouring occupiers, in terms of night-time noise, to which I give limited weight.
“However, this would not outweigh the benefits of the exploration in terms of its potential to improve resources for energy supplies to which I give substantial weight. On all other matters I consider that the impact is neutral overall. The conditions following this decision would ensure the development would be carried out in an acceptable manner.”
She added: “Therefore, I conclude that the appeal should be allowed.”
An eight-day inquiry was held in Chesterfield in June where Ms Hill heard evidence from Ineos and those campaigning against the proposals.
Local group, Eckington Against Fracking, has campaigned for the last 18 months when the plans first came to light, including peaceful protest marches and regular monthly meetings, and raised issues at the inquiry such as the impact on green belt, highways and noise.
Reacting to the announcement, David Kesteven, chairman of Eckington Against Fracking, said: “We are devastated. We knew it would have been a miracle had we won - a small village against such a big company - but we felt we did so well at the public inquiry. Had it just been down to planning law, we would have won.”
Mr Kesteven said that they put forward good arguments at the inquiry including noise, greenbelt and Apperknowle Airfield being nearby, but that ‘it was over before it began’ because they were not allowed to talk about fracking as they were told this was an application for an exploratory well – even though the inspector referred to the benefits of improving energy supplies in her report and gave more weight to that than the impact of noise.
“So there is a contradiction there,” he added.
“We are taking legal action whether we can appeal but the campaign will go on.
“These things can be won by mass action. Our campaign is strong. Our MP is incensed. We have the county council’s backing. Everybody is against it. We will fight it all the way. We are very disappointed, but we are not beaten.”
A planning application was made to Derbyshire County Council but Ineos took it to the Planning Inspectorate for an appeal because the firm claimed the council was taking too long to make a decision - something the authority denied. The council opposed the application after its planning committee refused the application by nine votes to one at a meeting in January.
Councillor Martyn Ford, chairman of the county council’s planning committee, said: “This is a very disappointing result for the residents of Marsh Lane and the surrounding area who came together and mounted such a well-organised campaign to oppose the application.
“We’ll be looking at the inspector’s report in detail over the coming days.”
While MP for North East Derbyshire, Lee Rowley, who spoke out against the plans at the inquiry, said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the decision.
“It is clear to me that Bramley Moor Lane remains a totally inappropriate place for either exploratory drilling or fracking and the decision will deeply worry those who live nearby,” Mr Rowley said. “Quite simply, this decision is wrong.
“We are talking about the industrialisation of our countryside here. The proposals will blight the landscape of the Moss Valley Conservation Area with a drilling rig nearly the height of the Crooked Spire, as well as other bulky equipment.”
He added: “I’d like to thank the thousands of people who got involved to oppose the proposals. In particular, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to Eckington Against Fracking and all of the other community groups who have fought tirelessly to stop this application.
“The decision has only just been announced, so we need to think through our options, read through all the decision documents thoroughly and decide where to go next. My message to the community is this: we always knew this would be a long fight and we wouldn’t win every battle. We should be proud of our community for coming together and we will stick together in unity to stop fracking in North East Derbyshire.”
Derbyshire Labour Group leader, Councillor Anne Western, said the decision is an ‘affront to local democracy’ and ‘devastating for local people’.
She said: “It will cause massive environmental damage in Derbyshire and for what? To produce more plastic to pollute the planet.
“Ineos know that they can do what they want, where they want, whenever they want because this shameless Tory government will always support tax-avoiding billionaires ahead of local communities.”
The decision means that Ineos can now build a drilling rig up to 60m tall and drill around 2,400m below the ground, to carry out the tests.
A spokesperson for Ineos said the firm was ‘pleased’ with the decision, which was made last Thursday.
“It is disappointing that a planning inquiry was needed for what is a straight-forward project – leading to an unjustifiable waste of public money,” the spokesperson said.
“The permission allows for the drilling of a single vertical core well to gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface – as has been agreed by many councils many times in the past to support the coal industry in the region.
“Ineos Shale hopes that this case will set a precedent for timely decisions on future applications based upon the facts.
“A fully-fledged shale industry can be a huge boost to the UK, providing jobs, investment and secure energy.”
The full report can be read at acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk using the reference APP/U1050/W/17/3190838.