Three alternative routes will ensure highway safety is maintained if shale gas company Cuadrilla is allowed to drill at Roseacre Wood, a planning inquiry has heard.
The move would mean an estimated 12 two-way journeys by lorries on a route in a day, and there would be no movements at weekends.
Other measures proposed to minimise danger from HGVs servicing the drilling site include building 30 passing places and the introduction of traffic signals.
But opponents to the plans warned the changes proposed would still not be enough to reduce the impact on the rural community.
Fears were raised vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders would be at risk from heavy traffic generated by the drilling site.
But Cuadrilla – which already has permission to drill for shale gas at its Preston New Road site, in Little Plumpton, and has completed drilling the first horizontal well –said splitting journeys over three routes and avoiding weekends would make the operation safer.
The hearing at Blackpool Football Club, which is expected to stretch over three weeks, is the reconvening of a previous planning inquiry in February 2016 into the fracking bid.
In her opening statement to the inquiry yesterday, Nathalie Lieven QC, representing Cuadrilla, said the three routes had been ‘assessed in very great detail’.
She added having three routes ‘means that the total number of vehicles on any of the three routes will be less, although this will vary on a daily basis’.
Operating hours have been ‘restricted to daylight hours during the week, which again lessens the risks of any conflicts with vulnerable users’.
Ms Lieven said: “These are undoubtedly rural roads and at some places are narrow.
“However, they are currently used by HGVs, as is shown by the surveys, without any evidence of undue difficulty.”
Although concerns had been raised about the potential impact of protesters on the highway arrangements, Ms Lieven said: “Ultimately it is for the police to ensure the highways can be used by the public.”
David Bird, a director of transport planning company Vectos, said his survey showed HGVs currently using the roads travelled at average speeds of around 30mph, while the number of cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders on the rural roads was not particularly high.
While he had counted 90 cyclists on Elswick high street during a 12-hour period, only 39 were on the more rural Clifton Lane.
He told the hearing the majority of riders he witnessed were experienced road cyclists who are used to dealing with traffic’.
Similarly, while pedestrian numbers were around 30 closer to shops and amenities, elsewhere there were up to six counted in a 12-hour period.
Only two horse riders were recorded and Mr Bird said the level of equestrian activity during the week was ‘very low’.
Police accident records from the past five years showed no recorded fatalities on the roads in question and one serious accident.
But opening his evidence on behalf of Lancashire County Council, Alan Evans QC, reminded the hearing the authority had refused the fracking bid because it would increase traffic, particularly with the number of HGVs.
This would result in ‘an unacceptable impact on the rural highway network’, he said.
All three routes put forward by Cuadrilla were deemed unsuitable by the county council, he added, due to issues including the restricted width of the roads, bends in the roads, junction manoeuvres required and the risk to vulnerable road users.
Mr Evans warned the introduction of passing places only served ‘to highlight the deficiencies of the routes’.
He also said there should be ‘a cautious approach’ to past accident records.
Mr Evans said: “The proposed passing places, even if all capable of effective implementation, would not in practice operate without unsatisfactory reversing manoeuvres being required.
“The temporary traffic signals on Dagger Road generate their own difficulties with safety.”
Opening evidence was also presented by Ben Du Feu on behalf of Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG), supported by Treales, Roseacre, Wharles, Inskip, Newton and Elswick parish councils.
Mr Du Feu said: “In relation to recreational amenity, RAG will present evidence to demonstrate the amenity value of the area, and to show in particular that there is a strong local community and many visitors for whom the undisturbed and rural nature of the area is of particular value for walking, cycling and horse riding.
“It will be shown that the development will have significant impacts on this amenity value both for local residents and for visitors with the likelihood of consequential harm to businesses dependent on leisure and tourism.”
Anti-fracking campaigners marked the opening of the three-week hearing by gathering in protest yesterday.
Around 100 people attended the demonstration outside Blackpool FC’s Bloomfield Road stadium, where the planning inquiry is being held.
Residents of Roseacre village were joined by campaigners from across Lancashire and beyond, with several people addressing the crowd.
Barbara Richardson, chairman of Roseacre Awareness Group, who will be presenting evidence to the hearing, said: “It has been four long years. These fracking plans have been rejected at every level from the residents to our parish, borough and county council.
“We are only a small community and it has taken us thousands of hours of unpaid work and tens of thousands of pounds, but we are determined to fight this to the bitter end.
“We are ordinary members of the public who understand the harm this industry will bring to our community, our health and well-being, our environment and ultimately climate change, and we are prepared to stand up and speak out.”
Prior to the start of the hearing, a Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Our expert transport consultants have concluded, and will demonstrate at the inquiry, that the proposed new route strategy and associated traffic management plan can more than adequately and safely accommodate the level of traffic proposed.”
Planning inspector Melvyn Middleton will only consider the highway implications of the scheme after Communities Secretary Sajid Javed said he would be ‘minded to allow’ fracking if a suitable transport management plan could be devised.
The inquiry will focus on the revised transport plan and not the issue of fracking itself.
If he is satisfied Cuadrilla’s plans can safely get the necessary number of lorries to and from the site, it looks likely Lancashire will end up with another fracking site, in spite of local objections.
The previous inquiry overturned the decision to reject plans to frack at Preston New Road and singled out the transport issue as the reason for blocking the Roseacre application, which is now back in the spotlight.