Demonstrators both for and against the controversial method of extracting gas from deep lying rocks spoke about the potential benefits and dangers from the development of a shale gas industry in rural Lancashire.
Inside Bloomfield Road, Government-appointed planning inspector Ms Wendy McKay opened a hearing with the noise of demonstrators clearly heard in the inquiry room overlooking the pitch at Bloomfield Road.
She was speaking at the start of energy firm Cuadrilla’s appeal against the refusal of planning permission to frack at two sites in Lancashire.
She outlined how the appeal would progress and listed speakers, both for the appellant Cuadrilla and the defendant Lancashire County Council, whose councillors refused in June last year, the energy company’s two bids to drill and test frack at land at Roseacre and Little Plumpton off Preston New Road – and also to install monitoring arrays at each site.
She said that she had already driven around both sites and stopped to look at them from the public highway, before coming to the hearing – but would set aside time for accompanied visits to each site.
She said: “There will be an accompanied site inspection on Wednesday, February 24. Having taken into account submissions from various parties it would be useful to have a second day to look at the sites particularly in respect of the array proposals which cannot be seen form the highway.
Self-evidently the process is controversial. However, this is not an inquiry into the rights or wrongs of shale gas extraction and how it relates to the UK’s climate change obligations.Natalie Lieven QC
“That may have to take place after the inquiry has finished if it cannot be fitted in before that.
“it may also be useful to carry out a site visit at night.”
Cuadrilla’s representative Natalie Lieven QC said that both sites were covered by high court injunctions and so a list of people who would be going on the visits would be needed so as not to inadvertently breach the injunction.
Natalie Lieven then outlined Cuadrilla’s initial opening statement to support their view that fracking should be allowed at each site.
She said the inspector should judge the appeal on planning grounds only, not on environmental or health issues which opponents would cite.
She said: “Self-evidently the process is controversial. However, this is not an inquiry into the rights or wrongs of shale gas extraction and how it relates to the UK’s climate change obligations. This is a planning inquiry under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 into planning considerations material to the determination of the appeals.”
She said the Government supported shale gas and regarded it as an issue of national importance. She added that the decision should be made assuming that regulatory regimes to cover environmental impact would be effective and should be relied on. She said Cuadrilla’s evidence would show that the impact on noise visual impact and traffic would show that the cases against the plans were over-stated.
For Lancashire County Council, Alan Evans said their evidence would show that the developments would cause a significant adverse impact on areas which were a valuable rural buffer between the urban areas of Blackpool and Kirkham.
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