‘Roads will collapse’

County Coun John Fillis
County Coun John Fillis
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Roads across the Fylde coast will collapse under the weight of damage sparked by full-scale fracking, Lancashire’s transport chief has warned.

County Coun John Fillis, the man in charge of highways at County Hall, made the stark claim after visiting countryside sites being lined up for exploratory drilling by energy company Cuadrilla.

He warned even exploratory drills could spark “direct damage” to roads around the sites – and claimed if full-scale shale gas drilling was given the go ahead “the road network will collapse.”

The dramatic claims were today backed by anti-fracking groups across the Fylde.

But the company behind plans to start exploratory drilling on two sites on the coast has hit back, insisting the roads can cope with drilling.

Coun Fillis, a member of the Lancashire County Council cabinet, said: “There are many debates currently taking place regarding the safety, necessity and morality of the fracking industry. Lancashire County Council has a duty to consider these proposals based on current planning guide lines and without prejudice.

“The issues that are of primary concern to the highways department are the availability of an appropriate route to the development sites, the impact that the additional vehicle movements will have on highway safety, the impact that these traffic movements will have on the structure of the highway and local communities that live along or may be required to access those routes.

“From the information we have so far, the impact on the rural roads will increase the deterioration and direct damage during the exploratory stage, if this is increased to full production the road network will collapse.

“Unlike other industries where we are able to plan the infrastructure to support it and provide the environment that separates it from intruding on residential areas, were possible.”

Coun Fillis’ comments were made in a release through the authority’s Labour group, which has since been withdrawn by the group after they were told it could potentially prejudice any future planning applications related to fracking, although Coun Fillis is not a member of the council’s development management committee.

Energy firm Cuadrilla has submitted plans to the council to conducted exploratory drilling at sites at Roseacre Wood, near Wharles, and a site near the A583 at Little Plumpton.

If the tests are found to be successful, the company hopes to carry out full-scale fracking, the process of injecting liquid into the ground at high pressure to release the gas inside rock.

Tina Rothery, from anti-fracking campaign group Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, today welcomed Coun Fillis’ comments.

She said: “We’re so relieved to hear a Labour politician stand up and confirm the things that we know to be true.

“We were pleasantly surprised because Labour has been on the fence with the issue and we were wondering if any local councillors would make a stand on behalf of the community.

“We’re very grateful that he’s taken the chance to stand up for his community.

“There’s no excuse for anybody not to be standing up to this.”

But a spokesman for Cuadrilla said: “It is important to remember that these are temporary exploration sites.

“Our initial transport findings indicate that the local road network and public highways infrastructure is more than able to cope with the transport envisaged.”

The drilling plans are set to be considered by the council’s development management committee.

A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “Our development control committee has to consider any applications for further exploration according to the planning regulations in place.

“Any such applications will be considered at the time on their individual merits.”

Fracking has long sparked concern among environmental groups on the Fylde coast.

In 2011, at a site at Preese Hall, Weeton, test fracking sparked two earth tremors measuring 2.3 and 1.5 in magnitude, leading to a temporary ban on fracking in the UK.

Cuadrilla has since left that site. Another site, at Annas Road, Westby, was also closed by the firm, which blamed wintering birds and restrictions on fracking.