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January 2016: Fracking Update

Fracking Update: January 2016We're doing a catch-up on several aspects of fracking in this article, but the major issues centre around the impending Inquiry in Public into Cuadrilla's appeal against the refusal of planning permission from Lancashire County Council.

This appeal will be the first time the Government’s policy on fracking will be considered by a Government Inspector for individual planning applications, and in doing so it will be making national, as well as local, history.

The appeal process will bring into conflict two of the Government flagship planning initiatives: the fast-tracking of fracking exploration and localism.

We know which one THEY want to triumph.

The real question though, will be whether the Government can objectively justify allowing fracking exploration at these locations against the weight of evidence to oppose it, against the combined views of the Borough and County Council who both said it was not an appropriate use of the sites in question, and against the Governments own contradictory planning policies predicated on decentralisation and supporting local decision taking.

If the Government does grant the appeal then, barring any procedural mistakes from now to the decision, we think these are the issues that a High Court Judge might have to balance and come to a judgement upon - and we think this could turn into a long running story if it goes as far as a Judicial Review after the Government's decision.

This is another of our longer articles, so for those who want specific information, the links below act as shortcuts to the headings.


 GOVERNMENT DID PESTER PLANNERS.

We did a short fracking update in our November 2015 Snippets article, but in that, we didn't have room for one important matter dating back 12 months, so we're including a brief outline of it now so our readers are fully up to speed.

It concerns the contact that took place between the Government and Lancashire County Council in the run up to LCC's decision on Cuadrilla's Fracking applications.

On 29 January 2015, Lord Greaves (Lib Dem) asked a question, and Baroness Verma (Energy Minister) replied specifically about this matter. The full results are in Hansard Written Answers of 11 February 2015.

He asked "has Her Majesty’s Government communicated with Lancashire County Council over the planning applications by Cuadrilla for fracking at Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton; and if so when and by what means they did so, and what was the purport of any communication?"

In essence the reply showed that government had made regular contact with LCC over about five months (The period during which LCC were preparing to debate Cuadrilla's Planning applications) including:

  • The Energy Minister, Matt Hancock, had met LCC's Deputy Leader in November 2014, and civil servants from two government departments had email and phone conversations with council officers between September 2014 and January 2015.
  • During September and October 2014 officials from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) were quizzing LCC about the number of responses to the applications to drill and frack at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, and also about the likely date for a decision on the applications
  • In November 2014, staff from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) proffered advice to LCC about what their role was in relation to regulating fracking and they responded once in November and twice in January about issues raised during the public consultation on the applications. There were also two phone calls between officials about pressure on local authorities dealing with this type of planning application.
  • On 20th January 2015 there were two communications. One was by telephone between the Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council and the Permanent Secretary at DCLG. It was to inform the department of the officer recommendations that would be in the reports to be published at 9.00am the following day. The other was an e-mail from Lancashire County Council about when the reports would be published and where they would be made available on their website.
  • And on 27 January, 27th January DECC officials informed Lancashire County Council they would not be attending the development control meetings, on 28th and 29th January, at which the decisions would be made on the planning applications.

We think the contact is probably even more significant than it appears because readers will recall that in Early February 2015, we published "Render Unto Caesar' in which we reported the Guardian's Leaked letter of about this time - when George Osborne wrote to his cabinet colleagues to say he wanted each Cabinet member to make certain actions a personal priority. We said at the time.....

'Amongst other things, he called for

  • a clear timetable for an autumn announcement to implement the development of 3 to 4 exemplar drilling sites to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration
  • a clear set of actions to influence the new EU Commission on the importance of shale gas to Europe's future
  • n action plan to have the necessary resources and skills to publicly defend the robustness and safety of the regulatory regime

In the appendix to his letter he goes into greater detail, including the need to "respond to the asks of Cuadrilla over which Government has influence and that will impact on the first well"

We were shocked to find that Cuadrilla had even made 'asks' (we do dislike that awful ungrammatical word) of Government in this matter, let alone that Government was going to push them forward.

These "asks" included "communicating to Lancashire County Council and others the intention behind the Planning Guidance, specifically to address Mineral Planning Authority concerns that they must satisfy themselves that regulators are doing their job'

His letter also said Cabinet members should 'be prepared for the risk that permission is turned down or the process is injuncted' and in this case he wanted colleagues to 'Consider whether to provide additional technical support to Lancashire to help determine current applications' and also he said 'if permission [is] turned down or undetermined Cuadrilla to respond to concerns and appeal asap'


Whilst we're not saying any of this is wrong, it does show how much Government was ready and planning to interfere in what should be a local planning process determined by the County Council.

In our view it also shows how much courage was displayed by LCC when they refused the application in the face of pressure emanating from a variety of sources.

Readers might recall that counterbalance had initially been ambivalent about fracking, but we crossed the Rubicon when our Government used the Infrastructure ActInfrastructure Bill (now an Act) to changed settled UK law about underground trespass specifically to benefit this industry to the detriment of those who owned the land.

For us - and just as Jessica Ernst had predicted - using statute law to change the common law protecting basic property rights was a step too far. This move made it impossible for us to support either of the political parties that considered it proper to introduce such a law, and so far as we were concerned, it shifted our opinion on fracking as well.

If the process does not enjoy sufficient natural support to persuade landowners to permit it, and the law of property had to be changed to remove that option from the landowners lexicon of options, then it must be something of dubious benefit.

The Government showed it was prepared to change basic property law, and Mr Osborne's letter called for his colleagues to support Cuadrilla's application and to interfere in the County Council's consideration of the planning applications. It is now clear from the answer given by Baroness Verma that his cabinet colleagues were acting upon his call - even if, as she said, they were not discussing the merits of the individual applications.


 MORE CHANGES TO THE INFRASTRUCTURE ACT

The Infrastructure Bill received Royal Assent on 12 February 2015 and, at that point, it became the Infrastructure Act.

Shortly after that, on 24th February, a lady of the cloth wrote to the local papers to alert everyone that the 16 (in our view minimal) safeguarding amendments (which had been built into the Infrastructure Bill and approved by the House of Commons on January 26) had been voted down in the House of Lords before the Bill became an Act.

Amongst other things this removed the protection that has been applied to National Parks and 'groundwater protection zones' .

Other changes included:

  • the removal of a requirement to notify residents on an individual basis of shale gas operations in their area;
  • the removal; of a requirement a requirement to record gas leaks other than methane; and,
  • the removal of a legal requirement that would itself have required Environmental Impact Assessments to be undertaken before considering prospective fracking sites.

Rt Hon Amber Rudd MPCommenting on the change to the legislation, Amber Rudd MP, (Energy Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change), said: "In the case of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks, given their size and dispersion, it might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under them in all cases without unduly constraining the industry."

Many people also had concerns that the Act does not properly define what constitutes a groundwater area, and some see this as causing ambiguity, despite the Environment Agency already having an existing definition of this term.

The Labour Party amendment which had initially succeeded had said "The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within ground source protection zones"

This was a particular from of words (using the plural) because there are several 'grades' of protection zones to which the exemption would have applied.

However, the change made in the Act says "....will not take place within protected groundwater source areas"

We're grateful to one of our sharp eyed readers who explained to us that this term has been carefully manipulated by the government because in the 'protected areas legislation' the water zone of protected areas is restricted to just the central zone - zone 1 - rather than all the groundwater zones.

The effect of this surreptitious change seems to be to weaken still further the protection that previously existed.

The BBC reported that many MPs were critical of the process used to vote down the amendments. They had only one hour to discuss the issue and there was no time to vote on all the bill’s amendments that day, and the Government used a device called 'Deferred Divisions' to take the decision after the conclusion of the day's business.

This required the vote to be deferred until Wednesday, and MP's voted by filling in ballot papers with the result announced later by the Deputy Speaker

Shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy accused ministers of using a "parliamentary backdoor" to try to approve what she called "weak regulations" without debate.

Gordon Marsden MPBlackpool South's MP Gordon Marsden was more blunt. He told the Gazette "This is an abuse of the parliamentary process - they should have allowed time for a floor debate on so crucial an issue." adding "This is a disgraceful, cynical and grubby manoeuvre the like of which I have not seen on such an important topic in my 18 years as an MP."

So far was we can recall, this Act is the first time the Government has enacted legislation to support the fracking industry over the rights of ordinary people. Up to now, they had only changed regulations, funding and guidance. But with this Act they have legislated specifically to support Shale Gas Development.

We remember how shocked we were to hear Jessica Ernst speak in St Annes and tell how the Canadian Government had changed the law to support the fracking industry over the rights of citizens in Canada. She warned us it would happen here, and we remember thinking it couldn't happen in a country like the UK.

Well, it just did.

We've added this awful decision to our 'Dave'll Fix It' hall of shame - Readers can follow this link to see the list of David Cameron's steps to make it easier for Shale Gas fracking in the UK.


 GOVERNMENT LOOKING TO FAST-TRACK FRACKING


In June, the Government announced yet another plan to make fracking quicker and easier.

They set out to fast-track fracking by removing the need for the public consultation before test drilling goes ahead.

If implemented, this change will sidestep the need for public consultation in England by changing the way permits are allocated for the exploration phase of a site’s development.

The idea is that Environment Agency will no longer visit the site and conduct a thorough environmental audit before drawing up a set of tailored requirements for the exploration company.

Instead, it will simply develop a one-size-fits-all permit based on a set of rules, and that permit will be awarded to oil and gas companies who show they can meet the criteria.

The proposed permit changes relate to the waste created by drilling, well testing and the use of acid to clean the borehole.

Readers will know we have an issue with the returned 'drilling muds' as they are called. We addressed this matter in 'Render Unto Caesar

The useless Environment Agency (you know, the ones who can't even manage the drains properly) has stressed that a so-called site-specific permit – based on a site visit – would be needed if a company wanted to frack following test drilling, but up to that, the plan is for them to go ahead.

We heard that Jake White, a legal adviser at Friends of the Earth, had said: "It is part of the process of steadily chipping away at the regulation of fracking. The activities which standard permits cover can still have real impacts.”

We couldn't agree more.

These changes won't apply to Scotland, because the Scottish Parliament controls its own fracking regulation and has banned it whilst it conducts further research into its safety.

They are also unlikely to have an impact on Wales, as the Welsh Assembly has responsibility for planning consent and has pledged to block all fracking applications.

The Environment Agency - in a move upon which the irony seems to be lost to them - put its proposed permit changes to a public consultation which closed at midnight on 15 June.

They were due to publish a consultation response document and new rules (as appropriate) in autumn 2015, but we haven't been able to find this.

Maybe they've been a bit busier with the drains than they expected.

If any of our readers have seen such a document we'd be obliged for a copy


 FRACKING COULD LOWER HOUSE PRICES

You just couldn't make it up could you. Forced by the Freedom of Information Act into publishing a report about the impact of shale gas on the rural economy, the Government complied with what it thought was the law, and published it - with all the adverse information blacked out by its pet term 'redacted'

Fracking: Rural Impact reportOne of its points suggested the prospect of lower house prices near to where fracking is undertaken.

Anyone with half a brain would be able to see what they were up to here by - literally - covering up the information.

And whilst we admit to being a bit flippant about it, this is actually a sad, dangerous but a perfect example of why people have lost trust in the career politicians and civil servants.

Trying to hide information like this. Trying to 'bury the bad news' under blacked out sections of the report so that the public won't be able to see what it says, leads us to only one conclusion.

They're trying to con us.

And when politicians try to con us, not unreasonably, we stop believing what they say, and we stop trusting them.

That's terrible for democracy.

But thankfully, there are those who have a role to shine lights in places that others would prefer to keep dark, and eventually - in July 2015 - the full report had to be published without the redactions

But even then, in attempt to justify what they had done before, the foolish virgins in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs still tried to downplay the content - it was "an early draft of an internal document" It was not "analytically robust." They also said [unsurprisingly in the circumstances] "Work on it has since been discontinued".

With a straight face, the covering note to the paper goes on to say "It includes early, often vague, assumptions which are not supported by appropriate evidence. These were never intended as considered Defra positions or as statements of fact."

Pull the other one - it's got bells on.

On the next (first) page is the Executive Summary. This begins "The analysis in this report has examined the economic, social and environmental impacts associated with shale gas exploration following a rapid literature review. Much of the international evidence is based on the experience in the USA which has seen a significant expansion of shale gas fracking over the past few years."

Readers can form their own opinion and follow this link to read the unredacted document.


 PREPARING FOR THE INQUIRY

Once Cuadrilla had decided to appeal Lancashire County Council's refusal of their planning application, the matter was handed to the Planning Inspectorate.

These folk (whose HQ is Bristol) are actually an arm of the Government, but are sort of semi-detached. They call themselves an "Executive Agency, sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Government" and comprise mostly former planning or legal officers or other planning professionals.

We've seen quite a few of their number in action at different inquiries and, whilst like all types of people, they all have different characters, excepting for one case, we have always found them to be incredibly professional and very competent. They all seem to have the ability to see things clearly and are quite sticklerish for protocol.

In some ways, we think you can liken them to a Magistrate or Judge (except they mostly don't send you to prison!) and in our experience, they have been unfailingly polite and considerate to the public - who usually respond to this treatment with unusually good behaviour.

Planning Inquiries are often called Public Inquiries, but actually they are more properly termed 'Inquiries in Public' because the purpose of the inquiry, and of the evidence presented, is to inform and explain all aspects of the case to the Planning Inspector.

And these explanations take place in public.

The inquiry is not FOR the public, but they are allowed in to listen to and in specific instances to contribute to, the evidence that the inspector hears. In his way the process is transparent and people have confidence in it, even when they disagree with the decision.

Having heard all the evidence, the Inspector then goes away and considers it, before (usually) writing a report and deciding whether to allow or refuse the appeal.

We haven't always agreed with an Inspector's decision of course, and sometimes we were sure they were wrong.

But they're the ones who take the decisions and (usually) that's that.

There are two notable circumstances when they don't take the decision. The first is if the Government decides to take the decision by a Minister, and the second is if a Judge is asked to undertake a Judicial review of a decision they have taken and decides to set the inspector's (or the Minister's) decision aside (usually for some procedural or administrative reason). In such cases, they may have to re-take the decision bearing in mind why the Judge disagreed with them.

The 'Main Parties' to an Inquiry are usually the developer and the planning authority. But sometimes, one or more community groups organise themselves and apply to the Planning Inspectorate to be recognised as having 'Rule 6' status. (Named after a regulation number that allowed the public to actively participate in planning inquiries).

Rule 6 status gives ordinary people (almost) parity with the professional planners and barristers that the 'Main Parties' to the inquiry have in terms of submitting and presenting evidence and cross examining witnesses. But this status also beings a terrible cost in terms of work, research, discipline, adhering to timetables, and in some cases significant financial cost as well.

Anyone who signs up to do a thorough 'Rule 6' party job for a large inquiry lasting say, 2 weeks, can expect to lose probably 3 to 6 months of their life within the year or so it will take to organise the inquiry. But it is, as they say - a 'character forming' - experience

The Inquiry for this fracking appeal was expected to last for 2 weeks (although people are currently talking about it lasting 4 weeks).

One of the early stages is that the Inspector who has been appointed / selected to conduct the Inquiry holds a Pre-Inquiry Meeting.

This meeting doesn't consider any of the evidence or the rights and wrongs of the appeal. It simply hears and decides the protocol and administrative and housekeeping arrangements for the Inquiry itself.

This was to be held (according to the advertisement) at the Blackpool FC Hotel on Bloomfield Road, so we went along to listen and see what was happening. Most people probably wouldn't be that interested, but anoraks like us quite enjoy it. You get to see who is performing what they sound and behave like, who's taking part, how long it will last, and so on.

So off we went on the appointed day (Thursday 19 November 2015). We left the bus on Lytham Road and walked the short distance over the bridge to the Hotel. When we got there, we saw two security types outside the hotel entrance. Big chaps. All very polite and respectful, but still big.

When we got into the foyer, there were another four. In our surprise we looked around commented "Gosh there are a lot of you" and we asked if we were in the right place for the planning inquiry meeting. Then, of course, we realised, they had been expecting - or at least were prepared for - trouble

Such is the reaction that some of those who oppose fracking have brought to their cause.

We were (very politely) advised that the venue had changed and we needed to go around the corner to the football club entrance itself.

We did.

And what we found there was even more surprising.

Outside that entrance there were a handful of policemen and another two security staff. But inside the foyer there were (it seemed to us) another half a dozen big security men. We were directed upstairs where ANOTHER six or eight security staff occupied the landing at the top of the stairs.

By now we were chuckling. We'd never seen such a security presence.

Maybe we should get out more.

It was all very polite, respectful and helpful. We were directed to a large function-type room running parallel to the pitch, and (not being footballing experts) we imagined it would probably be where the VIPs had a nice lunch on a Saturday whilst those on the terraces had to make do with pies.

Public Inquiry room

When the meeting started there were a few faces we knew, but the public gallery was probably less than a quarter full. It was a cavernous room with poor acoustics and trying to hear the quietly spoken ones was impossible. There seemed to be one microphone passed around an awful lot of people.

Not the Inspectors fault of course, but it wasn't an auspicious start.

The formalities of the meeting (ie who was representing who, which people were the rule 6 parties etc) is accurately set out in the Inspector's formal note of the meeting. Copies of that can be downloaded as a PDF file from the official website.

Impressively, those responsible have produced this website specifically for the inquiry. It's the first time we've see that happen, and readers can follow this link to see the official website and its information.

The Inquiry itself commences on Tuesday 9 February 2016 at Blackpool Football Club Hotel & Conference Centre, Bloomfield Road, Seasiders Way, Blackpool FY1 5JJ. It is (currently) expected to last for approximately 20 days. (That's 20 of the Inspectorate's days which will amount to at least four, possibly five ordinary weeks)

The Inspector is a lady called Wendy McKay LLB, a Solicitor (non-practising), and she has been appointed by the Secretary of State to report to him with recommendations (because he has decided to take the decision on the appeal himself)  We'll have more on this later in the article.

The sessions for what the website calls the 'Interested Persons' - That's basically the public who want to say something themselves - will be held on:

  • Wednesday 17 February from 6.30pm to 9.30pm for the Roseacre Wood appeals;
  • Thursday 25 February 2016 from 6.30pm to 9.30pm for the Preston New Road appeals
  • Tuesday 10 March from 11am to 5.30pm for all appeals.

Those who wish to speak at any of these sessions should give their name, address including postcode and the day/evening that they wish to speak by Wednesday 10 February 2016 at appealsinquiry@virginmedia.com

Our readers should please note that this email address is ONLY for parties to register their request to speak at the inquiry.

Other contact details and the enormous core documents and Proofs of Evidence (the list of these documents alone seems to be 1.3gb in size!) are available from the inquiry website. We understand the programme for the inquiry will also appear on the website shortly

Because the official and accurate notes of the pre-inquiry meeting having been published online, we'll restrict our further comments on the Pre-Inquiry meeting to our impression of some of the folk involved and to the feel of the event. Please remember our thoughts are only our take on it.

The Inspector Wendy McKay.
Starting at the top, we have to say we were impressed by the Inspector. Our initial impression was that of as able an Inspector as we have seen. She appeared deceptively gentle in her approach, but we did see flashes of strength. We left with the impression that she would be as accommodating as possible but wouldn't stand for any nonsense, and she had a good grasp of the issues in the case. As readers can tell, we were impressed with her initial performance.

Inspector - Wendy McKay

We were also heartened that, as an apparently more mature, perhaps retired professional solicitor, she was less likely to be influenced than some by an aspiration to climb the greasy pole to a more elevated office in the future. This seemed to us to be a lady comfortable in her own skin and confident of her ability. That augurs well for clarity of decision-taking and we thought it was a good start.

For Cuadrilla: Nathalie Lieven QC
The term QC (Queen’s Counsel, sometimes also called 'Silk') is for excellence in advocacy. It is made to outstanding advocates who have rights of audience in the higher courts of England and Wales and who have demonstrated a standard of excellence in their competence. Nathalie Lieven is the only QC in the Inquiry. The rest of the advocacy are barristers (from whose ranks QC's usually arise)

Barristers and QC's are traditionally instructed by solicitors and attorneys who themselves work directly with clients and are responsible for engaging a barrister with the appropriate expertise for the job, although this distinction is slowly breaking down and these days, some barristers may receive direct approaches from the public regarding engagement.

So we can conclude from this that Cuadrilla have engaged what the law presently regards as the most eminent barrister in the room. Our own take on her was that she was not in the same style as the infamous Roger Lancaster whose legendary 'cat and mouse' approach has stalked many inquiries we have attended on housing permissions. Nathalie Lieven struck us as being more ready to be assertive, and we wondered if we might see a more attacking style than we are used to seeing in the cross examination she conducts. Interestingly, we thought, she has represented Friends of the Earth in a number of cases, so she could be both poacher and gamekeeper on differing cases, and this intimacy with both 'sides' is likely to make her formidable. She also has a very wide experience in High Court planning cases, including Judicial Reviews which -  depending on the outcome, the oil price, and the depth of Cuadrilla's pocket, might come in handy for her at a future date.

For Lancashire County Council: Alan Evans, Barrister
Mr Evans works from Kings Chambers in Manchester (as does Roger Lancaster who we mentioned earlier). We've seen him at Inquiries before and regard him as a very steady and safe pair of hands. He is probably the most experienced barrister in the inquiry having been called to the bar in 1978. He specialises in planning, and majors in town and village greens, highways, public rights of way and road traffic regulation and compulsory purchase. He has wide experience and expertise across these areas. He is also known to have a significant judicial review component to his ability.

For the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce: Peter Whitehead, Solicitor
Supporting Cuadrilla, he appeared to us to be the oldest advocate in the room and is the Managing Director of Whiteheads Solicitors (established 1992). He oversees the management of the practice and client relationships in addition to providing support and mentoring to clients and staff. He is a member of the 'North West Energy Task Force's SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises?) Panel". Seemed a nice man, but we thought he would be out of his depth in the other legal company around him.

For Friends of the Earth: Estelle Dehon, Barrister
The most exotic sounding of the advocates - because working as a friend of the earth must give you a spring in your step. Her practice from 'Cornerstone Barristers' consists predominantly of public law work across a wide range of areas, including community care, freedom of information and data protection, and planning and environmental law. She appears to us to be a modern barrister and is accredited for Public Access so that she can be instructed by anybody directly, and she welcomes enquires about this.

The FOE is a canny bunch, and well versed in legislation, so we think she will be known to them and might just become the maverick advocate in this case. She is already making waves because she is the barrister who, on behalf of local residents, is spearheading an application for a Judicial Review  to challenge the grant of permission made by Lancashire County Council for Cuadrilla's monitoring works at Roseacre Wood. (We will return to this shortly).

For Roseacre Awareness Group. Robin Green, Barrister
Also from Cornerstone Barristers he is acknowledged as a leading planning, local government and administrative law practitioner, with an extensive inquiry and High Court practice. He specialises in planning and local government matters (including, in particular, highway, property and governance disputes). He is also an experienced civil litigator. He has a reputation for detail and being both down to earth and very engaging in his work and is said to have a very loyal client following. He sounded to us like a steady pair of hands.

For Preston New Road Action Group: Dr. Ashley Bowes, Barrister
Another member of 'Cornetstone Barristers' (and if we carry on at this rate we will find ourselves with more than four corners)

We suspect he will be the newest of the advocates, having been called to the bar in 2013. He holds a Doctorate in Law and has a practice spanning planning, property, civil and commercial litigation, licensing, local government law, public law and judicial review (which as we have said before, might come in handy in the future). in 2015, he was ranked by the Legal 500 as a ‘Leading Junior’ in the South East. He is also the Assistant Editor of Sweet & Maxwell’s Journal of Planning & Environment Law.

S&M are not (as the initials might imply) - strict disciplinarians) but they are the definitive legal authority in many aspects of planning matters. We first came across them in their work on Restrictive Covenants and it took us a day's study just to find the right page in their manual. So we suspect Dr Bowes might be the wildcard amongst the advocates.

He has already made a name for himself because he's the chap who took on and questioned the advice that David Manley QC had given to the Lancashire County Council's officers (which amongst other things had caused them to recommend approving the Preston New Road Application) after County Councillor Paul Hayhurst led the call for it to be published.

Dr Bowes said he thought David Manley's advice did not reflect the full picture of the evidence that was before the committee, or the full extent of members duties and powers, and he noted that "Elected members of a planning committee are entitled to come to a different view to their officers provided there is a rational and discernable basis for doing so....." He went on to say that, in particular, councillors were entitled to place differing weights on material considerations than their officers had done, so long as that difference was supported by evidence. He concluded that 'Provided the eventual reasons are supported by evidence at appeal there is no serious risk of costs even if the appeal is allowed'

His advice was quickly followed by Friends of the Earth's release of the opinion of its barrister, Richard Harwood QC, who supported the views of Dr Bowes. Mr Harwood said that a decision to refuse the application "would be a reasonable one to take and capable of being defended on appeal. Similarly it would not be ‘irresponsible conduct’ for the committee to decide to refuse the application." And he went on to cite factual evidence as to why the refusal might be justifiable.

Dr Bowes' opinion, supported by Mr Harwood, led to LCC councillors having the confidence to disagree with the advice of their professional officers - who appeared to us to have been using the threat of costs as a big stick with which to try to beat the councillors into compliance with their view. We think the officers were wrong to have done this, and we have previously seen the unpalatable arrogance of County planners laid low before by those who would challenge it (See our article Road Block), so we were delighted when County Cllr Hayhurst and other members of the planning committee saw the light shone by Dr Bowes and had the courage to base their refusal on a different interpretation of the weight of evidence that Preston New Road and others had laid before them.

We're hoping for another surprise performance from him in the Inquiry, but we do hope they give him a loud microphone for the inquiry itself. He was so softly spoken that it was impossible to hear him from the public gallery without one.

Others said to be giving evidence to or addressing the inquiry were

Cllr Julie Brickles and Cllr James Taylor representing Westby-with-Plumptons Parish Council.

Cllr Peter Collins representing Newton-with-Clifton Parish Council. He does not intend to call witnesses but would like to address the Inquiry.

Cllr Gillian Cookson of Treales, Roseacre and Wharles Parish Council confirmed that they would liaise with Roseacre Action Group in the presentation of their case.

So what of the arrangements for the inquiry?

The most significant news (we thought) was that FoE was apparently withdrawing from the 'monitoring aspects' of the appeal. We were not clear why this might have been, but we then heard that Cuadrilla had asked to withdraw one of the monitoring sites from it's appeal (apparently because the decided they didn't need it now) and we guess the two events might be linked.

The Inspector addressed housekeeping issues like the library of documents for the public to inspect, coping facilities, refreshments for the public, boards to display maps and photos etc.

There was also quite a bit of argy-bargy about the Judicial Review of LCC's decision to grant permission for a monitoring site.

The problem was that the date of the proposed JR had not been known, and the issue of whether that part of the inquiry could (or should) proceed in advance of it was at issue.

LCC had argued for a staying of the Judicial Review hearing until after the Inquiry decision. However, LCC were able to tell the Pre-Inquiry meeting that the date of the Roseacre Group's Judicial review had been set for 12th April 2016 so they were no longer asking for it to be delayed, but may do so if the appeal decision had not been made before that date (which it probably won't in our view).

In another (we thought) unusual move Cuadrilla's Barrister said she didn't intend to comment on Foe's evidence. That surprised us a bit.

But the main argument, (as ever in this sort of appeal) was whether to proceed by considering each appeal as a separate entity, or whether to proceed on the basis of the topics (highways, noise, landscape etc etc), and have each of the appeals considered within that topic.

The choice here make a huge difference in workload, cost and convenience (Topics are cheaper because experts are needed only whilst their bit of evidence is given. If the inquiry is 'site based' they may have to be there for all the time of the inquiry.) The order of events can also affect the way that evidence arises and influences other speakers, so strategically, it is a crucial decision.

Cuadrilla were pushing very hard for it to be topic based. LCC agreed with this, but of course, it disadvantages those from community groups who have to be there all the time (not just for 'their area') and RAG said this was not fair. PNR agreed of course and wanted it done site by site, as did FoE and the parish councils.

But Cuadrilla's barrister remained adamant that they wanted the inquiry to be topic based, and we didn't think this matter was completely resolved at the end of the pre-inquiry hearing. It seemed to be left in the hands of the programme officer to try and get a compromise or mediated solution before the actual inquiry.

PS: We've just heard that it looks as though the order will be topic based.

The Inspector gave out the usual information about the size of the proofs of evidence and the matters that she was particularly interested to hear about. Details of this are in the formal Pre-Inquiry meeting report on the Inquiry website.

There was also some interest in the Statements Of Common Ground. These are documents agreed mostly between the main parties in the inquiry and the effect of them is to remove non-contentious matters from the inquiry. At their most simple, they could agree the names of the sites being considered. At the other end of this scale, they can rule out great swathes of argument from even being considered at the inquiry - and we have seen instances where council officers have appeared far too ready to agree to weaken the ground on which their case stands by too readily agreeing to much of what the appellant has said in their Statement of Common Ground. (Just ask the good folk of Wesham about this).

The SoCG for this inquiry had to be completed, agreed, and in by 30th November 2015 and at the Pre-inquiry meeting, Cuadrilla and the LCC indicated that they were close to agreement on the terms of the SoCG which would then be sent to the Rule 6 parties so that they could indicate which parts of that document, if any, they were prepared to agree with. Cuadrilla said they expected to negotiate separate SoCGs with the Rule 6 parties.

We refer to something that struck us as a slightly unusual situation between Cuadrilla and LCC regarding the SoCG later in this article under the 'Unusual Moves at LCC' heading.

The last thing of note was that Cuadrilla wanted the appeal done as a webcast.

Good idea we thought, it will let all the interested parties see what was going on. The Inspector readily agreed in principle so long as the mechanics of the webcast did not interfere with or disrupt, the Inquiry itself.

We guess that from Cuadrilla's perspective, they might think it will help to reduce the numbers of people who oppose their appeal turning up at the meeting itself.

And with that, our report of the pre-inquiry meeting draws to a close.

There was no rowdyism in the meeting at all (and there probably wouldn't have been with all those big security chaps hanging around, even if anyone had planned to protest - not that anyone did).

Fracking supporters on a lorry

The only disturbance came from a noisy-ish bunch of 50 or so fracking supporters who had been bussed in and were standing the back of polytarp flatback articulated trailer on the car park outside. They made a bit of noise that you could just and so hear from inside the inquiry, but they were no bother.

The pre-inquiry meeting closed and we caught the bus back to counterbalance towers - looking forward to hearing the inquiry proper when it starts.


 MINISTER USURPS APPEAL DECISION

Just 8 days after the Pre Inquiry meeting, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, (That's now Greg Clarke since St Eric was removed to chair the Conservative Friends of Israel) announced he would be removing the decision on Cuadrilla's appeal from the Planning Inspector, and will be taking it himself.

Technically, he is using a "recovery" procedure which allows the Secretary of State to decide the outcome following the appeal rather a government appointed planning inspector.

His official argument for doing this is that the "proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/or legal difficulties".

There's nothing wrong, or exceptional with this happening. It's a frequent event in important applications such as this.

But of course the problem is that if he allows the appeal, no-one is going to believe it was anything other than because of his former master's overtly expressed support for fracking.

We referred at the start of this article to the policy tension that exits between two Government flagship planning initiatives: the fast-tracking of fracking exploration and localism.

Mr Clarke saw these dangers a long time ago. In speech to 'The Policy Exchange' in 2010 he said "In a moment I'll start with the fundamental ideas. But before that, I've got a confession to make: As well as being the minister for decentralisation, I'm also the minister with responsibility for central planning.

Yes, I know - ironies galore.

Fortunately, this other role is limited to nationally important infrastructure.

And even here we're doing our bit for the Big Society, by removing the power of final decision from unaccountable quangos and giving it to ministers accountable to Parliament."


So it's not something he didn't expect, and at that time at least, he was a committed decentralist and localism supporter

His background is that he began as a business consultant, then a parliamentary special adviser, was later BBC's Controller of Commercial Policy and after that Director of Policy for the Conservative Party (from 2001 until his election to parliament in 2005).

In October 2008, he was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet, shadowing the work of the (newly created at that time) Department of Energy and Climate Change.

And after the election in 2010 as part of the Coalition Government, he was appointed as Minister for Planning and Decentralisation in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Clark piloted the Localism Act through the Commons, arguing forcefully for the decentralisation of power and the devolution of decision taking. It was he who brought in the new era of Neighbourhood Planning so strongly supported by St Eric Pickles.

We came a cross a quote from Local Government Association Conservative group leader, who said: "Clark is committed to local planning and to councils determining the shape of their own destinies."

Looks like we'll get the chance to see how well that's working out.

Rt Hon Greg Clarke MPClearly very able and bright, he made an excellent advocate for the powers of the Localism Act. We have quite a bit of his performance on video recordings of the parliamentary committees that were considering various aspects of the Act.

But in a cabinet reshuffle in September 2012, we were dreadfully disappointed when he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

It felt to us as though he had a lot of knowledge of planning and localism, and he had been pulled in to George Osborne's Treasury to have that knowledge sucked out to benefit developers, and to have his brains washed of the localism aspects of his former life - so there would be room to indoctrinate him with Treasury Speak. (It was even worse for us when the overtly Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles was moved to DCLG to ruin local planning - but that's another story)

Then in David Cameron's first Cabinet reshuffle, Clarke was again moved to the Department of Communities and Local Government, but this time he took over Eric Pickles' role running the whole department.

We thought (and said) at the time that it looked as though he was now expected to use his Treasury-washed brain to implement the will of his former Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in Communities and Local Government.

So now, when we say 'He's the one who's who will be deciding the Cuadrilla appeal' we're not actually sure who 'he' really is.

On 1st December 2015, Fylde's MP Mark Menzies asked about fracking in Lancashire via Written question (18301), saying 'To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for what reasons he has decided to recover the planning appeals by Cuadrilla Resources to build shale gas wells at Roseacre and Preston New Road."

The answer he received came from James Wharton (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government and responsible for the so called 'Northern Power House'). who said 'The reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in his letter to parties. This makes clear that the drilling appeals involve proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/ or legal difficulties.'

And so it goes - around and around......


 UNUSUAL MOVES AT LCC?

Whilst we were looking for something else, an item on one of the LCC committee minutes caught our eye.

At LCC's Development Control committee meeting of 25th November 2015, we noted that in the Declaration of Interests section, "County Councillor Paul Rigby declared a pecuniary interest in agenda items 9a and 9b of the agenda as the applicant had been allowed access to his land for testing purposes"

From that we guessed (correctly it turns out) that it was about fracking.

Let us say at the outset, there's nothing wrong with what Cllr Rigby did in this matter. With the benefit of a bit of hindsight on our part, it seems to us to be exemplary conduct on his part.

And it's in sharp contrast to the declarations (which to us seem superficially similar to those) that were NOT made by Cllrs Threlfall and Fiddler at Council and committee meetings at Fylde in the recent past. That's a matter to which we may yet return at some future date, but for the moment we're parking it aside.

On the original agenda for the LCC meeting, Item 9 had first of all been added as an 'Urgent Item' (So it had not gone through the normal process to advance publish it on an agenda and it only appeared at, or just before, the meeting itself) and secondly it was prefaced by a resolution to exclude the press and public from the meeting in order to discuss whatever it was Cllr Rigby had declared an interest in.

A seasoned council watcher will know that you get an item added as an 'urgent item' and it is also a 'press and public excluded' one there's normally something suspicious or unusual afoot. So we had a closer look, but we had to wait for the minutes to be published.

It turns out that item 9b sought authority for officers to respond to a questionnaire from the Planning Inspectorate regarding an appeal over its refusal to grant a planning permission on a Cuadrilla site at Singleton. But as far as we could see from the minute of the meeting the only question from the Planning Inspectorate was whether LCC would agree to the appeal being conducted by written representations (ie rather than a hearing or an inquiry)

Whilst we can just about see a case for this to be considered as urgent business, but we could see absolutely no justification within those minutes for this to have been treated as an "Exempt Item" with the press and public excluded.

So that made us look more closely at the minutes of item 9a - which was about the Statements of Common Ground for the shale gas appeals.

LCC Minutes

The reason given for the urgency was that the Statements of Common Ground had to be submitted by 29 and 30 November and if this committee didn't see them, there was no other meeting before the deadline for submission to the Planning Inspectorate.

We can see there may have been a case for urgency here. We could also (just about) see a case for it being an exempt item (You wouldn't want the opposition to know what you were planning before you decide what the plan is).

But urgent items are sometimes urgent because officers don't want to give a committee time to undertake detailed consideration, so they become intentionally urgent as the deadline approaches. We're not saying this happened here, (we've no way of knowing), just that it is something that is not unknown.

When the minutes of the meeting appeared, it showed that a report and draft statements for the four sites were given to the committee at the meeting "for information."

Yes really!

Even more amazingly the minutes say "The documents before the Committee were the most recent draft which had been submitted by the Appellant for amendment/agreement before being finalised and submitted to the Planning Inspector."

What we had here were officers - who had proposed granting some of the applications and who were obviously unhappy that County Councillors had disagreed with the advice they had given - appearing to accept the Statement of Common Ground that the appellant had prepared and submitted for approval.

We didn't get to see this draft, but we're prepared to bet it would be far more accommodating than the Councillors who proposed refusal of the application would have wanted.

We would not have been surprised to find there may have been a bit of a hullabaloo in the committee - because we well know the capacity and understanding that experienced councillors like Paul Hayhurst and Liz Oades have in planning (and planning appeal) matters, and the chances are they would not have agreed with what the officers were probably prepared to agree to if the officers were running true to the form they had displayed up to that point.

The minute noted that "The Committee was invited to submit any views of comments on the Statements of Common Ground to the officers two days later ie by 9am on Friday 29th November."

The next meeting of the committee took place on 9th December. Curiously, none of this meeting appears to be in the list of webcasts that LCC offer for viewing even though the meetings  before and after it are on the list.

This may simply be an error of course.

However the minutes of that meeting are now available and once again we see urgent and exempt items on the agenda.  Cllr Rigby again declares an Interest and leaves the room for item 9a and 9b  (We think the numbering being the same as last time is just co-incidental)

Item 9a was about draft conditions and section106 matters for the four fracking appeals, but puzzlingly, item 9b was about the Statements of Common Ground.

The report says:

"Shale Gas Inquiry - Update on the Statements of Common Ground

Special circumstances for use of urgent business procedure:

It was considered that this matter could not wait until the next Committee meeting on 20 January 2016 as it was considered appropriate that the Committee should receive an update on the matter following receipt of their comments on 27 November 2015.

The Officers presented an oral report on the joint 'Statements of Common Ground' which the committee had considered at their last meeting. The Committee was informed that the Statements of Common Ground had been amended to reflect the views and comments of the Committee and had since been forwarded to the appellant from whom comments were awaited.

Resolved: That the report be noted."

Now, this is really unusual.

It was taken as an urgent item, yet it has no decision.

It was taken as an exempt item, yet it was simply an update on the Statements of Common Ground that had been sent to the appellant and were (assuming they accepted them) about to become public when sent to the Inspector. So we're struggling to see the justification for the exempt item status either.

To those of us who watch such things, this has all the feel of an exempt item being used to cover embarrassment.

Sharper readers might have noted the subtle change in the wording of the decisions of this and the previous meeting.

In the minutes of the first meeting, the Committee was invited to submit any views of comments on the Statements of Common Ground to the officers by 9am on Friday 29th November. And the decision was 'That the report be noted'

The implication here is that individual councillors would pass comments to the officers after the meeting. (Officers would then decide what to do with those comments).

But the second the minutes said

The Officers presented an oral report on the joint 'Statements of Common Ground' which the committee had considered at their last meeting. The Committee was informed that the Statements of Common Ground ***had been amended to reflect the views and comments of the Committee***  [those are our stars for emphasis]. And the decision was to note the report.

So what does this mean?

Firstly, it must mean that the County Councillors are now happy with the Statements of Common Ground that have been sent to the appellant. The implication of that is that they were not happy with the ones that were presented to the 25th November meeting.

We can't be absolutely sure, but trying to read between the lines here it looks to us as though the whole Committee has, once again, on 25th November, disagreed with the views of their officers and taken the initiative from them.

Rather than councillors sending their views individually for officers to consider, it appears to us that the whole committee has voted to change the matters which their officers were prepared to agree with Cuadrilla, (or at least which the officers were not going to contest). But this time it's all been done behind closed doors in exempt items.

If we're right about this, then, once again, as in the matter of the decision on the actual applications, residents in Fylde have cause to be very grateful to their ever vigilant County Councillors for supporting them in this matter.


 HUNGER STRIKE AT DOWNING STREET

Ever the one to keep matters in the public eye and remind those in Downing Street that we're still here and unhappy with their plans, local campaigner Gayzer Frackman took his personal crusade down to London in early December when he staged a sixteen day hunger strike to highlight the dangers of the shale gas industry.

We don't know about all our readers, but we have enough trouble sticking to the 5:2 diet that has 2 (more or less) food free days, and we definitely wouldn't want to go on for 16 days, so we think he did well.

The more traditional media picked up on his sojourn and the fact that he handed a letter in at No 10 to explain what he was doing.

That letter seems to have found its way to Amber Rudd who replied to him on behalf of the Government.

We managed to get a copy of that letter from a reader who is close to Mr Frackman and who sought his permission for us to use a copy of it.

It looks very much to us as though a civil servant or special adviser has written the factual middle bit. There's nothing exceptional or that we wouldn't already have known in it anyway.

But it looks to us as though the second and last paragraphs have been added by the Minister in person (or at least by a different author). The tone and style of the first and last paragraphs is very different, as readers will see if they follow this link to download a transcript of the letter.

It can be read in two ways of course, but the way we read it, we we're not that impressed with what the Minister said.


 MORE LICENCES ISSUED

Pressing ahead (some of our readers might add - as thought there's no tomorrow) with their dash for gas, the Government has granted additional exploration licenses. We're told there was unprecedented opposition, but the 132 remaining blocks (out of a total of 159) have now been offered up to fracking companies.

For those interested, one of the anti-fracking groups has produced an impressive interactive map. Readers can follow this link to see the map


 SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Back in our July 2014: Fracking Update, under the sub heading '5). Prosecution Threat' we drew attention to Fylde Council's threatened prosecution regarding the anti-fracking signs at Maple Farm Nurseries on the A 583.

Original signs


We said at the time that we were a bit surprised at this move because we could remember similar signs (although saying something different) which had been in place with no complaint for years before the wording changed to express concern about fracking.

They used to be big cream signs with green borders if memory serves correctly, and they were all along the verge saying things like 'Shrubs' and 'Trees' (and at least two others we can't just remember the wording for) going back to the 1980s. They advertised the goods on offer at the Nursery which is down the lane following the signs.

We also couldn't recall seeing FBC prosecute any other signs along the same road in as long as we can remember.

But we were chiefly surprised by the letter's preface which suggesting that the signs had made their point and ought now to be removed.

That sounded to us as though the requirement to remove the signs was based on - or at least linked to - the message conveyed by the signs, and there's is no legal justification for that requirement in relation to their removal.

There is no power that gives Fylde the right to require signs to be removed because they seek to censor what the signs say.

There are only two reasons for a breach of advertising consent: that the signs are detrimental to the amenity of the area; or that they endanger highway safety.

And if signs or notices have been in place for years without being prosecuted - as they have been in many places along the A583, and at the Queensway / Kilnhouse Lane Junction (see the bottom of the page) where there seem to be permanent signs as well as those advertising events, and near the end of Division Lane, and throughout Fylde we think it's unusual - to say the least - if you suddenly up and pick on one of these locations, (especially when you know there is shortly to be a big public inquiry in the offing that will attract national attention) and all the other locations where notices are left in peace.

One of our readers told us "I couldn't help thinking the timing of this prosecution is targeted. For it to happen just before the site visit by the Inspector cannot be coincidence. To ensure all the signs of resistance in local community are down really is another attempt to subvert democracy in Lancashire in my view."

Given the history of sign prosecutions in Fylde that we know about, it's difficult not to agree with that sentiment.

Garden Centre signs


Right next door to the signs that are currently offending Fylde's sensitivity are signs that relate to the garden centre. Admittedly they may be considered more neat and in a common format, but even so, they have no less impact on amenity and / or safety than the ones at Maple Farm.

We understand that proceedings were issued in November and the matter went to Blackpool Magistrates Court on 21st January. We're told it has been adjourned (we believe at Maple Farm's request pending further information being obtained), and we understand the case might now be heard by Magistrates on 25th February.

Mr Tootill who runs Maple Farm is widely regarded by those who know him as an honest man with strong principles and great integrity. We have spoken with him in the past, and we are entirely convinced of his deeply held fear for the future of his children if fracking is allowed on land close to his farm.

The anti-fracking signs he did have have been removed, but two different signs were in place when we looked a day or so ago. The first is a 'Thank-You' to Lancashire County Council.

Fracking sign: Thank you LCC

The second is probably no less heartfelt, but it is a bit less complimentary to 'Fylde Council'

Fracking sign criticises Fylde Council

So we'll have to wait and see what the Magistrates make of Fylde's allegation and Mr Tootill's side of the story.

We think that (quite properly) the Magistrates will only look at the legal aspects of the signs and not at the moral issues behind them. But we hope that they will take into account Fylde's failure to prosecute for the signs that have existed on this land at Maple Farm since the 1980s, and they will note the many other instances of signs which have existed for years but which Fylde has not yet seen fit to prosecute.

We hope they will discharge the case against Mr Tootill. But if they do find an infringement, we hope they will then take account of the underlying reasoning why the signs were put there, and why the prosecution might be being sought at this time.

Whilst it may have been the case - and we simply don't know about it - we have not personally heard any Fylde Councillors making a great fuss over these signs (and readers will know we keep our ear quite close to the ground) - in fact most of them (from all political parties) voted to recommend LCC *NOT* to approve sites for exploratory wells at the locations proposed by Cuadrilla when asked by LCC for a view, so there doesn't seem to be any weight of opinion carrying a torch for Cuadrilla's applications amongst members of FBC. We deduce from this that if the prosecution *is* 'politically' motivated, it is unlikely that it is being driven by members of the council.

Likewise, although (for understandable reasons) we're not especially 'persona grata' in Fylde's Planning department these days (and it is they who would probably be administering the prosecution issue within FBC), we're not aware of any of the planning officers who might be driving or orchestrating a campaign against the signs. Whilst it *IS* their responsibility to deal with allegations of advertising infringements, quite honestly, they've got much more important things they need to be getting on with, and we can't see them wanting to spend time on what, in planning terms, is such a trivial matter.

So we have to wonder where the moves to drive this prosecution forward are coming from?

The answer is that we don't know. But we did hear Cllr Liz Oades complaining in a meeting this week about Fylde's name or logo being included on some sort of pro fracking leaflet that appeared to have been issued with, or by, or in conjunction with the support of, what used to be called the 'Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company' but we think has changed its name to something like the 'Blackpool Bay Area Company'.

This is another example of something we really detest: the use of private companies with public sector directors / shareholders whose loyalty is (by law) to the company and not to the public sector from which they are drawn. These are Companies whose activities are not required to be transparent, and who do not have to work within accepted democratic practices by publishing agenda and minutes.

Cllr Oades also seemed to imply that senior members at Lancashire County Council had instructed that the LCC name and/or logo had to be removed from whatever the pro-fracking publication was, and Cllr Oades was arguing that Fylde ought to do the same.

We wondered if there might be a connection between this company and the various groups such as the 'North West Energy Task Force' which was set up to promote the cause of fracking locally and which is "supported by Centrica Energy and Cuadrilla Resources, however our activities and views are independent of our financial supporters."

So we had a quick look in our clippings file.

The Gazette of Tuesday 14 January 2014 reported: "Bev Robinson, chairman of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company, the body which aims to bring new investment to the Fylde coast, said the EDC will be participating in an independent national supply chain study into the needs of the shale gas industry, which is due to be carried out by Ernst and Young"

And on Thursday 24 July 2014 the Gazette said: "Rob Green, Head of Enterprise and Investment at the Blackpool Bay Area Company and a member of the Task Force, said: “Host communities in Lancashire cannot afford to ignore the considerable benefits to communities.”

Fylde's is represented on the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company (or Blackpool Bay Area Company if it has changed its name) not by a Councillor, but by its Chief Executive.

Cllr Mrs Oades was also calling for more oversight of the activities of this company so elected members of the council have more say about its activities.


 NOTICE OF MOTION

LCC are in the news again following a motion proposed at the meeting of the Full Council on 17th December 2015. It was originally put forward by County Councillor Steve Holgate and seconded by County Councillor David Howarth and On being put to the vote the motion was carried.

It was resolved: "That,

Lancashire County Council has spent significant time and resources ensuring that the process of determining planning applications on Fracking in Lancashire has been open, transparent and well informed.

The Development Control Committee received evidence and opinion from organisations both in favour of and opposed to Fracking, as well as from local resident groups, local businesses and public health professionals.

Whilst national government is rightly entitled to take a view and determine national policy regarding energy, we believe that the determination of individual planning applications should remain with the County Council as it is best able to consider local planning issues.

The Secretary of State is a member of a cabinet with a clear policy in favour of Fracking and he has made statements in favour of Fracking.

It is therefore inappropriate for him to determine the planning appeals on Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road in Lancashire because of clear evidence of pre-determination.

Lancashire County Council requests that the Secretary of State takes no part in the final determination of the Preston New Road or Roseacre Wood appeal decisions.

Council instructs the chief executive of Lancashire County Council to write to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State informing them of the opinions of the County Council."


We're not exactly sure of the status of this resolution, whether it's simply flag-waving or whether there is a more serious angle for the future, but we will keep an eye out for any developments.


 THE INQUIRY LOOMS

The next big fracking milestone is the Inquiry in Public that will start on Tuesday 9 February 2016 at Blackpool Football Club Hotel & Conference Centre, Bloomfield Road,

We expect to be there for at least some of the time and hope to see some of our readers too.

As a sobering thought, have a look at this picture. This is the evidence that the Preston new Road Group had to box up and submit (on paper as required) to the PNR Submission to PINSPlanning Inspectorate in respect of their case as a Rule 6 Party. There will be several copies of it, including one for the public library during the Inquiry, but even so, when you see it you get a sense of the scale of the task that ordinary people have to take on when they become a group representing their community.

The cost of the printing, binding and distribution alone must run toward (if not over) a thousand pounds, and all of that has to be raised from fundraising events and public donations. There are no government funds or lottery funds you can tap into for these costs, and all the fundraising has to be done at the same time that you're trying to organise expert witnesses, giving media interviews, drafting the Proofs of Evidence, leaning the law of what you can and can't do in an Inquiry and so on.

Whether you agree with them or not, the one thing that must have universal acclaim is that the people who do this are Local Heroes to take on such an onerous task on behalf of their community, and we owe them a tremendous debt for what they are doing.

In turn, we know (because we have done something similar in another matter) what they will want from their community is the support of ordinary people who agree with them to register to speak at the inquiry, and to tell the Inspector in their own words, using their own experience and concerns, why the appeal should not be allowed.

The one thing that only local people can do is to show the weight of public opinion, and to give that intimate local perspective that stands out as being human amongst the technical and statistical date that experts will present.

So we will finish with a reminder of the dates and times for the public who want to say something themselves - These are

  • Wednesday 17 February from 6.30pm to 9.30pm for the Roseacre Wood appeals;
  • Thursday 25 February 2016 from 6.30pm to 9.30pm for the Preston New Road appeals
  • Tuesday 10 March from 11am to 5.30pm for all appeals.

Those who wish to speak at any of these sessions should give their name, address including postcode and the day/evening that they wish to speak by Wednesday 10 February 2016 at appealsinquiry@virginmedia.com

Our readers should please note that this email address is ONLY for parties to register their request to speak at the inquiry.

The website address for all the matters in the inquiry is
http://programmeofficers.co.uk/lancashire/

 


 

 ~~~~~~~~ DAVE'LL FIX IT ~~~~~~~~

We introduced this panel so show how, in his enthusiasm to support fracking, David Cameron took the first small steps on a slippery slope. He began with saying how important he thinks fracking is, but he's now changed UK law to make it easier for frackers to operate. We expect to record and publish each of his steps as we publish future fracking articles.

However, the list has already grown too big to include it in the web page, so it's now downloadable as a PDF file. So if you want to see some of the legal and financial sidesteps Government had made to help and encourage fracking in the UK - follow this link to 'Dave'll Fix It'

Dated:  27 January 2016


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