We noted in January that planning appeals would be important for shale gas exploration this year. Cuadrilla submitted its appeals in September against Lancashire County Council’s decisions to refuse planning permission for temporary shale gas exploration at its Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood sites (and an application for monitoring installations at Preston New Road). We should expect a forensic bunfight but a clearer path for other schemes when it ends.

Prospectors for appeal

Cuadrilla will be confident of its chances.  The Preston New Road refusal – on noise and landscape grounds – was against officer recommendations and hard to square with the planning policy and guidance on temporary effects.  It will have to show that it has done the best job of mitigating the landscape, noise and traffic impacts though.

National planning policies and guidance are now strongly supportive of prospecting for energy minerals and recognise that short term effects are usually going to be acceptable where properly mitigated. Shale developers, including Cuadrilla, have struggled on previous sites to anticipate and address all the effects.

Objectors are not going to go quietly. Given that the Government has signalled its intent to recover appeals to ensure the right result, these points will rightly be tested to destruction in these appeals.

JR claim is a plot thickener

Lancashire approved one of Cuadrilla’s applications – for 91 monitoring stations and three boreholes, to monitor seismic activity and water quality, around the Roseacre Wood site. The Infrastructure Act 2015 now requires that methane in groundwater is monitored over a twelve month period before high volume fracturing can occur. The Government is still considering the proposed amendment to permitted development rights to remove the need for express consent. These associated consents are therefore key to Cuadrilla’s plans.

Cuadrilla is appealing against conditions associated with this permission. That is fortunate, because Roseacre Awareness Group has now been given permission to run its Judicial Review claim against it. The array was granted permission despite the refusals of the main fracking application. Having initially been rejected as an unarguable claim, the High Court has now accepted it, noting ominously that it is “particularly persuasive” that the Council may have misunderstood the need for the array and the policy support for it in national policy, given that it was intended as mitigation for the main scheme.  Whatever the merits of the claim, if the planning appeal can be dealt with quickly enough, it may provide an opportunity to wash up any flaws before an Inspector.