Councillors have delayed a decision to allow fracking at Little Plumpton until Monday.
After a day dogged by discussion on legal issues and a series of adjournments, they voted for more time to consider further legal advice.
The councillors were concerned about a motion by Coun Kevin Ellard to throw out Cuadrilla’s application on the grounds of the visual impact it would have on the rural nature of the Fylde, which was itself defeated after private discussions with County Hall lawyers.
An angry Coun Paul Hayhurst then asked for that legal advice to be made public so that residents could see why councillors had “their hands tied” and voted to reject Coun Ellard’s refusal motion.
Councillors waited for a written draft of those reasons and when that finally arrived at the end of the day, councillors again voted for a deferral so that residents’ legal teams could view the details and react accordingly.
It is the first of two hearings which are seen as being crucial to the future of the shale gas industry in the county.
Today, the committee will return to the chamber to hear evidence on a sister bid at Roseacre.
Planning officers had recommended acceptance of the Preston New Road bid, but refusal of the Roseacre bid due to traffic issues. Cuadrilla says that fracking can be carried out safely and will deliver jobs and energy security for the country.
But opponents say it could cause pollution issues and would change the nature of Fylde’s countryside – turning it industrial.
Speaking after the Preston New Road Hearing Pat Davies of the Preston New Road Action Group said: “I am appalled and very frustrated by what has happened today.
“We have now only two days to see this legal advice given to the council in secret. I would like to thank Coun Hayhurst for pushing so hard to get this advice made public so people can see how and why their council is making these decisions.”
Alan Toothill from PNRAG said: “Our local community will be distraught at the decision today. We have been through 15 months of agony – worry by day and sleepless nights.
“We put forward the best possible argument for refusal, which we believe is unanswerable. Only last week the committee members heard from two barristers and experts who supported our case in the clearest legal and technical terms. Now yet again we are asked to wait”
Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said: “As with all planning applications there is a procedure and process which is ongoing and as the applicant we await a determination.”
Councillor: This would ruin beauty of Fylde
County Coun Kevin Ellard proposed a motion to refuse the planning application from Cuadrilla to test frack on land near Little Plumpton off the Preston New Road.
The deputy chairman of the planning committee said: “We should be wary of taking forward any application until the concerns of the director of public health have been dealt with.”
He proposed a motion of refusal on grounds that the application ran counter to national planning policy framework in that the development would not enhance the local environment or amenity, that it failed to protect the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, that it ran counter to policy DM2 in that it would fail to make a positive contribution to the landscape or character of the area and would significantly change for the worse conditions for those living and working there.
He added that it ran counter to SP2 and EM11 of the Fylde Borough Local Plan.
Chief planner Stuart Perigo said Coun Ellard’s reasons for refusal were, in his view, unsustainable.
He said refusal on landscape impact grounds may not be successful under a Government Inspector’s appeal as the structures proposed for the fracking site might be regarded as temporary.
Next to speak was County Coun Paul Hayhurst in support of the refusal motion.
He raised the spectre of possible accidents, citing the devastating explosion which occurred at Abbeystead in Lancashire in May 1984. Then methane gas migrating from a coal seam destroyed an underground water pumping station killing 16 people on a visit.
He said in Scotland a village in Midlothian built on a former pit site had to be evacuated recently due to CO2 gas emmisions and he also cited the fire at the former nuclear plant at Windscale.
He added: “The experts do get things wrong, and badly wrong on occasions.”
He said he was not against fracking but had to know that he was voting for something that was safe for people.