Cuadrilla gas site in Fylde can continue for five years in face of road safety concerns
Energy firm Cuadrilla has been told that it can continue to explore a natural gas well near Elswick for another five years – provided councillors give the green light to its plans to manage the movement of heavy goods traffic in the area.
The site, off Roseacre Road – around a mile south of the village – was originally approved back in 1989 and a series of time-limited extensions have been granted since. The latest of these expired 18 months ago – but even though the well has not generated electricity for six years due to a failure of equipment, the company has now sought permission to investigate whether any more fuel can be extracted.
However, a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s development control committee heard that the proposal had generated dozens of concerns from locals about the potential impact of the plans on road safety along the narrow rural routes surrounding the site.
The well is less than two miles away from Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking site in Roseacre Wood, which was refused permission by the government last year following a public inquiry which led the Communities Secretary to conclude that highway issues had not been “satisfactorily addressed”.
Committee member and Fylde West county councillor Paul Hayhurst told the meeting considering the Elswick application – which does not involve fracking – that the fears raised at the inquiry are still valid.
“From narrow points [which] only one vehicle can navigate at a time, to children’s playgrounds, old people’s bungalows, blind corners, 90-degree bends and a junction on the A585 which highways England say is unsafe – we should at least go and have a look at it,” said County Cllr Hayhurst, calling for the committee to visit the site.
However, members were told that the number of additional HGV vehicle movements that would occur as a result of approving the extension totalled just 86 over an eleven month period. They would be required to enable the necessary work to confirm the integrity of the well and install a new electricity generation unit.
A further 870 HGV trips would be made as part of the restoration of the site after another three and a half-year period of potential gas extraction. However, these journeys have already been approved as part of the previous permission – which also required site restoration at the end of the life of the well.
“Even if this application is refused, the vast majority of HGV movements are a given and will happen anyway,” explained the authority’s head of planning and environment, Andrew Mullaney.
“The Roseacre Wood application related to almost 15,000 HGVs over five and a half years – albeit spread over three routes. So it’s inconceivable that permission for 86 HGVs would set [any kind of] precedent for 15,000 HGVs.”
He added that approving the application would allow the 870 journeys made as part of the restoration process to be controlled under the same traffic management plan which officers were demanding as a condition of granting an extension to the exploration of well. If the application were to be rejected, there would be no obligation for Cuadrilla to submit any details of how it planned to control the movement of HGVs during the restoration phase.
The committee was split down the middle – with some members wanting to defer a decision until the traffic plans were actually on the table, while others were happy to approve the application on the day, subject to them being satisfied with those plans once they were presented to a future meeting.
The casting vote went to the chair, Barrie Yates, who backed immediate approval.
The traffic management plan will require details of a “routing strategy” to reduce the risk of HGVs having to pass by in opposite directions on the local road network and to inform drivers of the nature of the highways in the area – as well as information on the number of HGV movements expected during peak times.
Principal planning officer Jonathan Haine said that HGV drivers will have to “travel at the speed the highway allows” and would be aware of “the constraints” of the route.
Speaking after the meeting, local resident and anti-fracking campaigner Barbara Richardson, from the Roseacre Awareness Group, said the community would be “watching what happens next very closely”.
“It is imperative that there is a traffic management plan in place, because of the dangers that were exposed as part of the Roseacre Wood inquiry. Until then, people in the area are not going to be reassured,” she warned.
Cuadrilla was approached for comment.
Permission for the well was granted in 1989 and, although gas was discovered in the early 1990s, it did not flow at commercially-viable rates. The then operator “stimulated” the site using gelled water and the gas began to be successfully extracted.
From 1994, the electricity generated fed into a local network and continued to do so for 20 years, when key equipment failed.
As part of the approval now granted, a new generator will be installed. The development control committee heard that the site is well screened from the surrounding area with vegetation and earth mounds.
Work to confirm the integrity of the well and install the new equipment is expected to take 11 months, followed by three and a half years of gas extraction – should it prove feasible. The subsequent restoration process is forecast to take three months.
Treales, Roseacre and Wharles Parish Council objected on the basis that the original permission for the site was for just two years – and that has now been extended across three decades, with the current approval running “beyond the applicant’s current oil and gas licence period”.