Lancashire County Council has rejected a planning application to frack at Preston New Road, in an unexpected move following months of deliberation.
Members of the local authority’s development control committee this morning voted against granting energy company Cuadrilla planning permission to drill and frack at a site in Little Plumpton despite council officers recommending acceptance of the proposal.
Campaigners who had been staging protests outside the Preston town hall reacted to Lancashire’s decision with jubilation. Friends of the Earth had said Lancashire risked ‘setting a precedent’ for ‘all over the UK’ if it granted Cuadrilla permission to operate locally.
Legal warnings were issued to councillors last week that a refusal of the Preston New Road site without ‘substantial objective evidence’ could ‘readily be described as unreasonable’ and could land the council with a fine.
David Manley QC also told councillors that it would be ‘highly likely’ Cuadrilla would appeal against any refusal based on a ‘generalised policy’.
Councillors had also voted to refuse a further application from Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas at a site in Roseacre Wood following advice that the proposals would have a ‘severe’ impact on the local road network.
They were originally due to make a decision on both applications in January but repeatedly postponed their vote to consider revised proposals submitted at the eleventh hour by Cuadrilla.
Cllr Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, and member of the development control committee, said: ‘This is one of the biggest planning decisions ever put before Lancashire County Council. The development control committee has listened very carefully to many hours of evidence both for and against the proposal, and considered the report of the council's planning officers.
‘The decision to refuse this application has been reached by a vote of the committee, which is composed of elected councillors, and each member of the committee has ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they have heard and whether they think the proposal is acceptable in planning terms, and to the people they represent.’
Reacting to today’s decision, Friends of the Earth north west campaigner Furqan Naeem, said: ‘People in Lancashire and across the UK who have been tirelessly campaigning against fracking will breathe a sigh of relief today - safe in the knowledge that this dirty industry that risks health, quality of life and the climate, has been stopped in its tracks once again.
A spokesperson from the company said: ‘It is over a year since the application was submitted to the council and the committee’s decision comes after planning officer’s scrupulously went through the rigorous, 4,000 page environmental statement that accompanied our application and conducted widespread public consultation, which led to their positive recommendation.
‘If we can unlock this shale gas potential it will help create jobs, generate economic growth, help fuel and heat local businesses and homes and boost local tax revenues for Lancashire. It is regrettable that the county council has decided not to support this application in the face of positive recommendation from all regulators and their own officers.’
Image: Friends of the Earth