Public inquiry over ‘fracking site’ begins with claim noise reduction measures need new planning application

A public inquiry into a fracking company’s application to bore a test shaft on the fringes of a South Yorkshire village has started, with initial evidence revealing the firm is now proposing a three metre high acoustic fence which would block villagers’ views of “rolling countryside” in a bid to address noise issues.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019, 16:51 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th June 2019, 11:19 am
Undampened spirit: Protesters outside Riverside House for the Ineos public inquiry

Rotherham Council turned down a planning application last year from energy firm Ineos to drill a test hole on a site off Dinnington Road at Woodsetts, Rotherham, which could a precursor to an application for fracking at the site if suitable quantities of shale gas were shown to be present.

That rejection was on the grounds of noise and traffic problems, though the council has since dropped its objections over highways issues.

A community group called Woodsetts Against Fracking has remaining objections on traffic grounds as well as noise and in opening submissions at the inquiry, which could last up to eight days, and in opening submissions it emerged that within a week of the hearing starting, Ineos provided details of a planned 270 metre long acoustic fence, to protect the village from excess noise.

Some details were provided only on the evening before the hearing began and as evidence began, noise experts from Ineos, the council and WAF were in talks to establish whether noise mitigation proposed by the company was suitable.

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However, WAF’s lawyer, Jack Parker, told the hearing the acoustic fence, so large it would need foundations, would require its own planning application because of the scale of structure, which would run for some distance alongside a public right of way.

Mr Parker told the hearing: “It is accepted it would block views. It would obliterate what was previously an unencumbered view of rolling countryside.

“The barrier would need foundations and would need planning permission. It would not preserve the openness of the Green Belt.

“Very special considerations would be required and the applicant has not sought to demonstrate those.

“So far as the barrier would be temporary, it does not detract from the fact it would need planning permission and would detract from the openness of the Green Belt,” he said.

Even with the barrier in place, it was likely that acceptable noise thresholds from the drilling site could be exceeded and, if there was any further suggestion of reducing its size or removing it from the proposals, that problem would grow further, he said.

In the days ahead, WAF have said they will seek to demonstrate that roads in the area are not suitable for the heavy lorry traffic which would have to use them while the site was in use.

There was an assumption lorries would travel in convoys to and from the site, but there had been no details provided as to where they would gather to start the journeys and, Mr Parker said, the increased traffic would increase problems for other road users.

Gordon Steele QC, representing Ineos, said: “This does not include fracking. Any opposition to fracking is simply not relevant at this inquiry. Opposition to fracking is in the wrong place at the wrong time. We only seek permission for what is applied for.”

That is to perform exploratory works over a period of five years, which would involve sinking a test bore to explore the geology of the site.

To do so would entail setting up a compound for engineers, on farmland near the village, and gaining access to that would involve creating a new access road.