Government overrules council to approve Lancashire fracking plans

FRACKING for shale gas has been given the green light in Lancashire after the Government approved an application that had previously been rejected by the county council.

In a landmark ruling, local government secretary Sajid Javid gave the go-ahead for drilling of exploratory wells by Cuadrilla on agricultural land at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton.

It means that for the first time, horizontal fracking, which sees high-pressure liquid blasted into underground shale to release gas, will be carried out in the UK.

A decision has yet to be made on a second site at Roseacre Wood on the Fylde Peninsula.

Lancashire County Council rejected applications for both sites last year, citing concerns over noise levels and the "adverse urbanising effect on the landscape".

The applications were the first to be submitted in the county since a report concluded that it was "highly probable" exploratory drilling by Cuadrilla was responsible for minor earthquakes on the Fylde Coast in 2011.

The case gained national and even international attention, with the group Elected Officials to Protect New York, which represents 850 local government officers, urging the council to reject the plans, saying that in the US problems with water contamination, air pollution, earthquakes and negative impacts on communities are getting worse despite industry that fracking is safe if properly regulated.

Cuadrilla said the council's own planning officer had deemed the proposals "acceptable on all environmental and planning grounds" and that it was committed to "engaging with local communities to reassure them that exploratory operations can and will be carried out safely and in an environmentally responsible way".

It launched an appeal and the decision was called in by the secretary of state.

Cuadrilla chief executive Frances Egan said: "We have been through an exhaustive environmental impact assessment on this. We have assessed everything: noise, traffic, water, emissions, etc.

"The Environment Agency are entirely comfortable with it."

But environmental group Friends of the Earth said the secretary of state's intervention is "undemocratic".

"It could open the floodgates for more fracking across the country if the Government is willing to overturn decisions made by local councils," it said in a statement.

"Friends of the Earth's legal team will look closely at this decision and will continue to support the community to do everything they can to peacefully reject this decision."

Cllr Marcus Johnstone, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, said: "This was one of the biggest planning applications ever put before any council - literally tens of thousands of people responded to the consultation processes, and the applications involved substantial levels of technical detail. 

"Our development control committee carefully considered many hours of evidence both for and against the proposal, and the committee members ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they heard and whether they thought the proposal was acceptable in planning terms. 

"A local council, made up of councillors democratically elected by local people, and charged with serving their interests, is exactly the right body to make decisions on local matters. It is clear that the government supports the development of a shale gas industry, but I would ask them to do more to address the concerns of local communities and the councillors who represent them by supporting the best environmental controls. "