Monday, January 29, 2018

News: Date set for public inquiry into INEOS' Rotherham plans

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A date has been set for the public inquiry on the determination of INEOS' proposals for a shale gas test drilling well in Harthill.

Last week, the planning board at Rotherham Council confirmed its objections to the plans for a site between the villages of Harthill and Thorpe Salvin that involves building a drilling rig and drilling vertically, deep into the ground to find out how much gas is in the shale.

The members agreed with the authority's planning officers who put forward reasons why the application would be refused based on concerns over the impact on the highways and on ecological surveys and assessments undertaken by the applicant that "fall considerably short."

With INEOS submitting an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate last year, it essentially meant that the application was refused.

Having been given the "hurry-up" by Government, INEOS said that it had encountered "unreasonable delays" in dealing with Rotherham Council on its plans for a drilling rig on Greenbelt land between the villages of Harthill and Thorpe Salvin.

The decision has been taken out of their hands but the planning board still met to establish its stance before a public inquiry where a planning inspector will have the responsibility of deciding on the application.

The inquiry is set to begin on April 24 at Rotherham Town Hall and could last two weeks.

It is likely to be similar to an ordinary planning appeal which can follow on from when an application is refused. The applicant and planning authority setting out their arguments to an independent planning inspector, in this case Stephen Roscoe, based on national and local planning matters.

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A meeting of the Planning Board was put back to early 2018 with Cllr. Atkin, chair of the planning board at Rotherham Council, stating last month that it was INEOS that asked for an extension so that they could overcome the objections.

The application would provide temporary permission for a maximum of five years and the operation would involve various site investigation surveys and site preparation before a period of drilling, coring and testing. A well would be drilled to approximately 2,800 m using a drill rig of maximum 60 m rig height followed by three months of testing. It would use large plant, machinery and HGVs in site development and operationally.

Rothbiz reported last week on the Council's reasons for refusal and these were described to the planning board.

Mitigation measures drawn up for INEOS have not been approved by the Council's transport planners. The proposals could generate a maximum of 70 daily vehicle movements during the site development and measures such as passing places and junction improvements have been deemed to "not satisfactorily address the road safety concerns regarding the introduction of a significant number of additional large commercial vehicles along these narrow country lanes."

Planning consultants, Turley, spoke to the members of the planning board, outlining why the Common Road plans should be approved. The proposals will enable INEOS to carry out tests on the suitability of the area for hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Disappointed with the Council's reasons for refusal, the consultants found comfort in the fact that all of the statutory consultees, such as the Environment Agency, Public Health England, The Health and Safety Executive, The Coal Authority and South Yorkshire Police, offered no objections to the proposals.

With the application receiving over 1,300 letters, not one in support, representatives from various local and national groups, as well as local ward councillors, also had their voice heard, putting forward their concerns.

Rotherham Council planners are of the opinion that other concerns raised are not significant or substantial enough to be included as reasons for refusal alongside highways and ecology issues. However, representatives still have the right to raise the issues at the public inquiry.

Councillors on the planning board then spoke on the plans, showing their frustration and upset at INEOS "bypassing" local decision-making and treating local democracy with contempt.

An emotional chair of the planning board, Cllr. Alan Atkin, said: "As chairman I don't tend to speak much from the chair. I don't think it is appropriate but on this occasion I think I concur with what some people are saying.

"Our planning officers are some of the best in Britain and they have been treated badly by INEOS. Quite frankly, it's shameful, the way they've acted.

"We have got many testimonials from people up and down the country saying that our planning officers bend over backwards to help developers. And the way that INEOS has dealt with us is appalling."

Voting at the meeting, the members showed how they would have voted if it was down to them to judge the application - unanimously agreeing with the officer's recommendation for refusal.

Cllr. Atkin concluded the meeting by saying: "We'll see what happens at the inquiry."

INEOS website

Images: INEOS / Turley

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