BY RUTH HAYHURST ON JULY 28, 2017
More than 1,200 people have signed a petition in the past 24 hours calling for the enforcement of planning conditions at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site in Lancashire.
The petition was launched in response to the company’s decision to deliver its drilling rig at about 4.15am yesterday, in breach of an agreement designed to prevent disturbance to people living nearby.
Mark Mills, a local opponent of Cuadrilla’s operations and the creator of the petition, called for the removal of the rig. He said it should be delivered during the permitted hours of 7.30am-6pm.
“The permission for Preston New Road was predicated on Cuadrilla meeting the planning conditions which were supposed to give us the confidence that if this did proceed it would be done safely and according to the rules.
“To ride a coach and horses through the conditions of the planning permission to me seems incongruous.
“I am staggered that a company that should be trying to win a social licence to operate would so flagrantly disregard planning conditions and ride roughshod over the council.”
Cuadrilla said yesterday it had taken the decision to deliver the rig overnight to avoid the road being blocked by protesters and what it called “the attendant prolonged inconvenience to local road users and potential impacts on commuter and protestor safety.” (Cuadrilla statement in DrillOrDrop report)
Lancashire County Council said the delivery was a breach of planning conditions and said it was writing to Cuadrilla requiring it to prevent this happening again.
But Mr Mills said:
“I think it would be inadequate for our council to say ‘We are aware of your breach and don’t do it again’. It needs to be more penal than that. It is too important to allow them to apologise and give assurance that it won’t happen again.
“They picked the most contentious piece of equipment to do this with.
“The future of this industry is going to be decided largely by what happens in Lancashire. Other companies will see they are riding roughshod over the conditions and think they can do the same.”
Lancashire County Councillor Paul Hayhurst, who represents the area of the Preston New Road site, said he was “very disappointed” that Cuadrilla had breached the permissions, apparently with the consent of the police.
Cllr Hayhurst, an independent councillor, was on a group that worked with Cuadrilla and the local Preston New Road Action Group to draw up the conditions after the Communities Secretary granted planning permission for the site. Cllr Hayhurst said:
“This condition was put forward to protect the local residents and stop them being disturbed outside working hours. It was with Cuadrilla’s agreement”.
During the planning inquiry into the Preston New Road plans, Cuadrilla’s barrister implied that the company would go to great lengths to abide by planning conditions. Talking about noise conditions, Nathalie Lieven QC said:
“If my clients are foolish enough to breach the noise limits they are going to bring on themselves a whole pack of trouble.
“They are going to extreme lengths to ensure that [breaching the limit] would not happen.
“The problem for Cuadrilla if they don’t make that effort will be very costly.”
But opponents of Cuadrilla’s activities at Preston New Road have said they have evidence that the company has breached other conditions since work began in January.
Within three weeks, Lancashire County Council admitted it had received “a lot of complaints and allegations”. The head of planning, Andy Mullaney, said there were examples of lorries not following the agreed transport route.
There were also complaints about vehicles waiting outside the site access, carrying loose material which was not covered in sheets and lorries not using wheel-washing facilities.
In March, Marcus Johnson, the then county council cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, told a committee meeting:
“It has to be said that, as we are discovering at Preston New Road, the applicant [Cuadrilla] doesn’t have a particularly good record when it comes to planning conditions.”
Kirkham Town Councillor, Miranda Cox, who took part in a lock-on protest at Preston New Road this month, said a friend had been woken by the lorries early yesterday morning.
“She saw a massive convoy coming in from Preston past her house. She was obviously very disturbed by it”.
Cllr Cox said:
“I want more robust action taken against Cuadrilla. It’s not the first time they’ve breached planning. We have got evidence of a number of issues that we feel are sufficient to warrant more robust action.
“We have got evidence from day 1 of safety issues and breaches in planning.
“We are not going to sit back and accept this. This was a more severe and obvious breach and people are really upset about it.
“Some of the other breaches would be described as low key. But they are part of a bigger picture about regulation, about safety and about the disregard that this company holds the community it has invaded.
“It’s a moral issue. They’ve come into our community uninvited, unwanted, and they haven’t got the decency to abide by the rules.”
Green Party County Councillor Gina Dowding, (pictured above) who also took part in the lock-on protest, said the delivery of the rig had been “meticulously planned” by Cuadrilla and the police.
“This is yet another demonstration of Cuadrilla’s disregard for the local community.
“I hope other councillors in other parties will call for action against Cuadrilla.”
Another county councillor, independent, Liz Oades , who represents a Fylde ward, said:
“I am very disappointed that Cuadrilla felt justified in breaking the law in order to deliver the rig.
“The wanton disregard for the conditions bodes very badly for the future operation of this site and I am seriously worried about what will happen when drilling takes place. Will we see the same arrogance displayed the next time Cuadrilla feel that the conditions are inconvenient to them?
“For these reasons I sincerely hope that the County Council will take necessary action.”
This morning, Lancashire For Shale, (a group who, on their website, list Cuadrilla as one of their supporters) issued this statement:
“Lancashire For Shale finds it ironic that the protesters are complaining about a minor breach of the planning rules, which caused no harm and was clearly taken in the interests of saving police resources, costs to Lancastrian taxpayers and potential disruption to the local residents.
“It should also be borne in mind that the complainants are associated with the same national organisations and people who have a long running track record of breaking the law, not only in Lancashire, but throughout the country.
“Their repeated lock-ons and other actions throughout July have caused numerous problems for local residents and businesses. Enough is Enough!!!”
(29/7/17 Edit to clarify that Lancashire for Shale list Cuadrilla as a supporter of their group)