Fracking company seeks relaxation of planning conditions for restoration at Becconsall

Cuadrilla is seeking to raise the height of the rig and the volume of noise it can make at a Lancashire shale gas site next to an internationally-important bird reserve.Becconsall2

The company has asked Lancashire County Council to change restrictions on well abandonment and restoration work at Becconsall next to the Ribble Estuary.

Under planning conditions set in 2014, Cuadrilla must limit noise levels to 42 decibels (dB) (decision notice). The company had also said it would use a rig no higher than 22m.

But Cuadrilla has made a new planning application LCC/2014/0047NM1 to increase the rig height by 10m to 32m. In another application LCC/2017/0016, the company is seeking to increase the maximum noise limit by 13dB to 55dB. As well as increasing the noise level, Cuadrilla wants the limit to be set at the nearest home, not the boundary of the site.

A residents’ group has said current planning conditions should be adhered to and it would oppose the company’s new applications.

“Safeguard amenity and prevent disturbance”

In 2014, Lancashire County Council set a condition that noise shall not exceed 42 dB when measured at any point on the site boundary. The reason given was:

“To safeguard the amenity of local residents and to prevent disturbance to birds”.

It also said the condition was needed to conform with polices in the Joint Lancashire Minerals and Waste Development Core Strategy, the joint Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan and the West Lancashire Local Plan 2012-2027 Development Plan Document.

But in its application to change the noise restriction, Cuadrilla said:

“The wording of the existing condition (14) places an unreasonable restriction on the activity not consistent with Minerals Planning Policy.”

 “No material impact”

On the rig height, Cuadrilla said the original application was based on using its own rig but this has since be decommissioned. It now needed to hire a contractor’s rig.

In the application, Cuadrilla said:

“The landscape and visual assessment has been reviewed which concludes that a change from 22m to 32m has no material impact to the original conclusions of the assessment.”

People can comment on the noise application up to Wednesday 1 March 2017.

Reaction

In a statement, John Powney, of Ribble Estuary Against Fracking, said:

“Our members were aware of the proposals to vary condition 14 of P/A LCC/2014/0047 some time ago.

“We are in discussion with our planning and acoustic specialists and will be objecting on material planning grounds.

“We are presenting the case why the 50% increase in rig height should not be determined under s96A of the town and country planning act 1990.

“Conditions that are placed in consideration of the six-point test of the National Planning Policy Framework should be adhered to.”

Planning history

This is Cuadrilla’s latest in several requests for changes to conditions at Becconsall.

The first permission, granted in 2010 by a planning officer, acting under delegated powers, allowed Cuadrilla to drill an exploratory well. But the conditions required restoration after 18 months.

  • The company missed the deadline and asked for an extension in 2012. It missed that deadline and asked for more time again in 2013 and 2014.
  • DrillOrDrop reported last year that the wording of a planning condition in the 2014 permission had delayed the return of the site to farmland. Cuadrilla had said it would plug the well and restore the site by 31 October 2016. But it emerged that the condition allowed the company at least another year to carry out work at Becconsall.
  • A winter bird feeding area, established by Cuadrilla as required under the 2014 permission, had been leased to a wildfowl shooting club. DrillOrDrop
  • The company also breached the 90-day drilling limit which was a condition of the 2010 planning permission.

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