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countering the spin and restoring the balance

DEMOCRACY & LOCALISM + FRACKING

DEMOCRACY AND LOCALISM SEMINAR
Readers will recall that in 'Restoring Democracy' we set out some background information about the way councils can be run, and we introduced the Fylde Civic Awareness Group's Democracy and Localism Seminar which will be looking into this in more detail.

Their seminar is to be held at the Glendower Hotel in St Annes a week today, on Friday 15th February. Until it is held, readers can follow this link for more details of the seminar http://www.fylde.biz

We said we shared their enthusiasm for changing Fylde back to the former Committee System, and we would support their campaign in a variety of ways, not least by providing information about its progress.

We also said we hoped to be able to offer counterbalance readers a rare opportunity to help in a practical way to bring about a grassroots change of governance in Fylde. We can now begin do so

This week FCAG put out an email to their supporters as follows:


"Tickets are going quickly for the 'Democracy and Localism' seminar at the Glendower Hotel on 15 February. If you want to come, please don't leave it too late to book - half the tickets have already gone.

After the seminar we will ask Fylde residents if they support changing the way Fylde Council is run - changing from the Cabinet system back to the tried and tested Committee system that ran successfully until 2005, and where every councillor had a vote on decisions the Council took - not just the Leader and six Cabinet members who decide today.

To make this change, 5% of Fylde residents need to sign a petition calling for a local referendum - a public vote of Fylde residents - on whether the Cabinet or Committee system should be used in Fylde.

Petitions will be available for people to call in and sign at a range of shops and locations across Fylde. A shorter petition form will also be available from the Internet for printing and completion at home.

At the present time, we are building a network of addresses, throughout Fylde Borough to act as letterboxes to receive the 'internet' petition forms that have been completed. We already have several addresses, but would like better geographic coverage.

So we'd like to ask two questions of you.

Firstly, whether you would be willing to offer your street address (not your name) as a letterbox where people in your locality could post their completed forms. We will make arrangements with you regarding collection, and we would publish the addresses on our webpage to show where the 'postbox addresses' are - It would say something like

ST ANNES
10 Dorset Road;
18 Sandhurst Avenue;
And so on

Secondly, we´d like to send all our registered members a petition form with seven signature spaces and ask if you would see how many of those spaces you can get friends and family to sign before dropping it through one of the local letterbox points.

This is our chance to work together to help bring about what could be the biggest change to the way Fylde is run since 2005, and we hope to be able to count on your support"


We know most of our readers already understand the problems cause by the Leader and Cabinet System that Fylde adopted as its way of working in 2005/6 (That was despite a public consultation showing a majority in favour of keeping the former Committee system), so we imagine at least some of our counterbalance readers might like the same opportunities to help bring about change.

So if you live in Fylde and would be willing to become a temporary 'letterbox' please let FCAG know by emailing their Clerk to say so clerk@fylde.biz

We understand they would especially welcome contact from our readers willing to act as a local letterbox collection point and who live in:

Furthermore, in a week or so's time, we would also like to send our counterbalance readers who subscribe to our notifications service a short, seven signature petition form and ask if you are willing to speak with your friends and family who live and vote in Fylde to see if they too would support the call for a referendum on changing the way Fylde Council operates.

But we respect our readers, and would not wish to add to their unsolicited mail, so if you don't want a petition form sending, please let us know at info@counterbalance.org.uk, and we will temporarily remove your from our mailing list when we send them out.



FRACKING: CUADRILLA'S EIA SCOPING REPORT

Readers will know we've been mostly ambivalent about the shale gas plans. We can see potential advantages in energy security, supply and possibly pricing, but we have concerns about the processes, chiefly about wellbore integrity and the treatment of flowback water.

To date, we have been encouraged by Cuadrilla's willing acceptance of, and support for, a tight regulatory regime.

To us, that showed they had a willingness to ensure that the highest environmental standards were implemented. We saw that as being to Cuadrilla's benefit because it would reduce the ability of less well managed / well intentioned companies getting a look in.

However we were both shocked and surprised to discover the content of an application for approval of their EIA Scoping Report at Annas Road.

A scoping report is a prelude to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). And that is a prelude to an Environmental Statement (ES)

It's purpose is to set the scope (as it says on the tin) of what will be considered when an EIA is undertaken to produce the ES.

So it will be seen that although it's often dry as dust, and the words need to be picked over with a fine toothcomb, a scoping document is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to what happens on the ground.

We've said that what's included in the scoping document is important, but often, the even more important matter is what has been *excluded* by it.

That's because if certain matters are excluded, they won't even be considered - and their potential impact won't be assessed - as part of the EIA.

We're going to look at this in more detail - starting with what should be in an Environmental Impact Assessment, then we'll look at what parts of it Cuadrilla wanted to exclude.

The source regulations are European, but they have been transposed into UK Law. They require the applicant to

of a project on the following factors:

and the interaction between the factors

That's a pretty comprehensive list.

Furthermore, the EIA is supposed to consider the in-combination effects of the project.

As an example, suppose you were building a big road to serve a new housing site. You might want to put down a sub-base of crushed stone on which to build the road. In an EIA for that, you'd probably expect to have to identify, describe and assess the likely significant effects of doing that work within your site so far as people, wildlife, land. water, air and the rest of the list are concerned.

But you might not realise that you also have to assess your impact on the source of the stone - what impact will it have on the environment around the stone quarry, and what effect will transporting it to your site have on the traffic and so on. Those are what the regulations call the 'indirect effects' of your project.

And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you realise that the foundations for the driveways and hard standings of the proposed houses will all need a stone carpet laying as well, so you have to look at the 'in-combination' effects of both these and the road construction in case together they add up to something much worse.

Generally, the result of all this is some sort of assessment of the "likely significant impact" of what you are doing on the various issues that are set out in the EIA regulations.

Then you have to show that you have taken measures to "mitigate" the adverse parts of what you are proposing. Provided the decision-making authorities are convinced that your proposed mitigation measures are satisfactory and sufficient, the ES will be agreed and progress will be made.

What this process does, is to ensure open and transparent consideration of all aspects of the work, allowing anyone to see in quite some detail what is proposed, how it will affect things and what you propose to do to lessen the impact.

At least that's how it should work.

But if you can get agreement to exclude a load of issues and put them - literally - outside the scope of the assessment, you can save a lot of time and cost.

Up to now we had thought Cuadrilla to be a mostly responsible organisation, and when we picked up their scoping document to scan through, we were shocked to find they were seeking to use the scoping document to exclude swathes of what we believe they should be considering.

Remember the things the EIA regulations say should be identified, described and assessed?

- human beings,
- fauna and flora;
- soil,
- water,
- air,
- climate and the landscape;
- material assets and the cultural heritage;
and the interaction between the factors


So what did Cuadrilla want to exclude?

They proposed to exclude:

That's simply not good enough.

Cuadrilla say (P 26, Scoping Report January 2013)

"5.10.1 The screening opinion for the Becconsall Site provided by the Lancashire County Council, which has been used to inform this scoping report, has effectively confirmed the topics which do not need to be covered by the ES. These include:" (their list above)

"5.10.2 As indicated above, whilst the conclusion of the screening option [sic] has suggested that the above matters do not require formal Environmental Impact Assessment technical reports will be appended to the ES, by way of supporting data, in terms of matters of landscape, noise and traffic. The site has already been developed for exploratory purposes and there are no implications in terms of archaeology. The development at the site will have no impact in terms of climate change and the temporary use of the site for hydrocarbon exploration has no impact upon the agriculture of the surrounding lands. The planning application for the site development includes details of how the site will be reinstated to its former agricultural status upon completion of the exploratory works."

Now, we need to get some facts straight here

A Screening Opinion is the local planning authority’s assessment of whether an Environmental Statement should be submitted with the application. If a Screening Opinion is issued by the local authority, it must be placed with the Planning Register

A Scoping Opinion is the authority’s formal view on what issues an Environmental Statement (which itself flows from the Environmental Impact Assessment) should contain.

So what Cuadrilla seem to be saying here is that they asked for a screening opinion on the Becconsall Site and LCC decided whether an EIA/ES was needed there or not. (We don't know what they actually decided at Becconsall because we haven't looked it up).

Cuadrilla are therefore extrapolating from that experience that they do not need to address some topics in their environmental statement.

There are at least two things seriously wrong with this idea.

Firstly it assumes that Becconsall and Annas Road are the same.

They are not.

Secondly Cuadrilla are treating a SCREENING opinion (which is about WHETHER they need to do an EIA and ES) as though it was a SCOPING opinion (which is about WHAT will be considered in the EIA/ES).

They go on to say (at 5.10.2) the Screening Option [sic] suggests which aspects do not require a formal EIA, but they then say they will do some 'technical reports' and append them to the ES.

They then assert: there are no implications in terms of archaeology; the site will have no impact in terms of climate change; and the temporary use of the site for hydrocarbon exploration has no impact upon the agriculture of the surrounding lands.

We have no confidence that Cuadrilla has the evidence to support the assertions they make in the second part of 5.10.2.

It is exactly the undertaking of the Environmental Impact Assessment that would transparently show whether this was the case or not, and that is why it is so important.

Finally, in Part 1 of their Scoping Report Cuadrilla say "2.3.7 There are no sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation on or adjacent to the site. The closest statutory sites are the Ribble Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Area at a distance of some 4 kilometres. There are no Local Nature Reserves on or adjacent to the site however the site does lie within a non-statutory site known as Lytham Moss Biological Heritage Site. This has been designated for its wintering bird interest."

It is to be hoped that LCC's planners spot this. We believe it to be inaccurate. The land across Annas Road will form part of a Farmland Conservation Area (FCA) which the developer is to provide as part of the mitigation for potential disturbance of wildlife when the Queensway development and associated infrastructure is built. It was shown during the Queensway Public Inquiry that fields in that area are "Functionally Linked" with the Ribble and Alt Estuary Special Protection Area, and that linkage required something called an "Appropriate Assessment" of birds to be undertaken (These are technical terms Google for more details). The FCA reaches up to Anna's Road and there have been many more bird sightings in recent years, so it could well be that circumstances are even more restrictive today. We believe the linkage of the Special Protection Area and the Anna's Road site needs further investigation and it will probably require the undertaking of a Appropriate Assessment.

For the above reasons we have felt it necessary to lodge a formal objection with LCC planners to the Scoping Report produced by Cuadrilla.

In our opinion Cuadrilla either do not know, or do not understand, what is required of them. The alternative must be that they are trying to circumvent the environmental regulations by excluding swathes of matters that need proper assessment and consideration.

If either of those is correct, it leads us to the view that Cuadrilla ought not to be driving the EIA themselves. That should be driven by another body and Cuadrilla should meet the cost.

Dated:  8 February 2013

 

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