Fracking decision day

Proposed fracking site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton
Proposed fracking site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton

It’s Fylde’s fracking d-day.

The Government is expected to announce today its decision whether to allow bids to test frack for natural gas from deep-lying shale rocks on land at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road at Little Plumpton.

Although fracking applications have been lodged elsewhere in the country, Fylde is seen as a test case.

In June 2015, Lancashire County Council went against council officials’ recommendations and threw out applications by gas exploration company Cuadrilla for planning permission to drill and test the flow of gas at the two sites along with an application to install monitoring equipment at Preston New Road.

An earlier application to install monitoring arrays at Roseacre Wood were passed with strict conditions.

Cuadrilla appealed against the decisions and a six-week public planning inquiry was held at Blackpool Football Club in spring this year with evidence being put forward at great length by both sides of the argument.

The Government-appointed inspector, Wendy McKay, then compiled her report which was sent to the Secretary of State for communities Sajid Javid, who will make the final decision and is set to announce it today.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, whose constitency covers both sites, said the appeal process had been exhaustive.

He said: “I, along with a large number of people around the country, have been awaiting the outcome of the Planning Inspector’s inquiry for some time now.

“I have said all along that Lancashire County Council made a decision on these applications following a thorough and detailed examination of the evidence and those decisions should be upheld.

“However, the ability to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate is part of the planning process and it was perhaps unsurprising Cuadrilla Resources chose to follow that route.

“I think the length of time the public inquiry has taken shows the Planning Inspectorate takes its role in this process extremely seriously.

“Although I had hoped it would be handled quickly for the sake of those residents who have been left in an uncertain position, it was important it was examined in close detail.”

Residents who have lived with the worries of what they believe will be a noisy, smelly potentially health-affecting industry, have said they are likely to apply for a judicial review - but that would not necessarily stop any drilling.

If the Government rules against the two applications, it does not stop Cuadrilla from looking for other sites in Lancashire and submitting new applications.

Anti-fracking campaigners say that overruling local government would be anti-democractic, but the Government has backed the shale gas industry, saying it would provide much-needed home-produced gas for the nation and would create jobs and cash for the economy.

Pro-shale groups say the process can be done safely and relatively unobtrusively and the land returned to pre-fracking conditions afterwards.

But anti-fracking campaigners say that fracking, which involves the injection of high pressure water, sand and chemicals into the shale rock to force open the strata and release the gas, could cause earth tremors, damage the environment and change the Fylde from a rural agricultural and tourism-based economy to industrial.

Claire Stephenson from Preston New Road Action Group said: “We are awaiting the decision of the Secretary of State with heightened anxiety.

“This decision isn’t about the chamber of commerce, business interests or political lobbying: this is a decision that affects residents’ health, lives and businesses that depend on agriculture and tourism.”

The Roseacre Awareness Group believe the decision would be a test of democracy.

A spokesman said: “The overwhelming feeling at the costly public inquiry was that Cuadrilla’s case for fracking at Roseacre had been crushed: that Lancashire County Council, and its planning officials, had been right to refuse permission.

“The case advanced by Roseacre Awareness Group, representing a swathe of Fylde communities, was equally conclusive.

“But Cuadrilla’s barrister repeatedly played her ‘get out of jail’ card: the Secretary of State.

“It is to be hoped that there will be honour and consistency in his decision.”

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive officer, said: “We remain confident in our appeals case and know that shale gas exploration will bring much needed investment and job opportunities to Lancashire.

“We also know that our proposed operations will be safe and have minimal impact on the local environment.”