Anti-fracking campaigners have been dealt a double blow with the announcement that petrochemicals firm Ineos has been granted planning permission on appeal to drill a test well in the village of Harthill and is also planning a second attempt to win permission for a similar development in Woodsetts.
The ruling, by planning inspector Stephen Roscoe following a public inquiry, allows for the temporary installation of drilling equipment , which can remain in place for up to five years.
It will be used to test the geology of the ground and the results of that research may ultimately be used to support a future application for fracking, if experts believe underground conditions suggest it would be viable to extract gas in the area.
However, MP Kevin Barron has already pledged to continue to fight against the decision, tweeting: “I will continue to fight this decision as I still believe there are too many unanswered questions around fracking in areas of old mine workings.”
The application by Ineos has been a fraught process and was never actually considered by Rotherham Council which ran out of time to make a decision, allowing Ineos to proceed straight to a public inquiry, which took place in April.
Rotherham Council had argued that it would have rejected the application on ecological and highways safety grounds had its planning board made a decision and before the public inquiry went ahead, dropped its objections on ecological grounds.
Highway safety concerns were the council’s remaining area of concern, because the Common Road site can be accessed only via minor roads, but Ineos made a late submission offering a raft of changes, including the creation of a series of roadside bays for motorists to allow heavy traffic to pass and the use of ‘banksmen’ to control traffic as convoys of lorries moved in and out of the area.
There had been widespread objections from those living in the area, with concerns about traffic safety, noise and the loss of open space in the green belt.
But in his ruling Mr Roscoe allowed the development of the site, after considering whether the work would be inappropriate development in the green belt and the effect on roads in the area.
He said: “The proposed development would be associated with mineral extraction, which in itself is not inappropriate development in the green belt.
“The development would include plant, site buildings and minor topsoil storage and environmental bunding which would be in place for up to five years. The site would be returned to its existing condition following this period.
“In view of the extent and temporary nature of the development, which would not be unusually longer than other construction or mineral extraction operations, the development would preserve the openness and the purposes of including land in the green belt. It would therefore not represent inappropriate development and would not be harmful to the green belt.”
In terms of road issues, he said after good access from the M1 on the A619, the route followed two kilometres on Bondhay Lane, which was single track in places, with part of the route “tortuous in its alignments and narrow in width”.
However, his findings made it clear that it would be a responsibility for Rotherham Council to work on a traffic management plan for the site which safeguarded the needs of all those using roads in the area, stating “I do not consider that the proposal would be likely to have an unacceptable adverse effect on the use of these lanes by other vehicles.”
The Harthill Against Fracking group was set up in response to the initial application by Ineos, which argues that fracking is safe and a national resource to help meet future energy needs, was submitted and the group has campaigned extensively.
On their Facebook page Judith Colley said: “What devastating news, feel so sad for the people living in Harthill and surrounding areas.”
Mr Roscoe’s ruling was announced the day after Ineos erected signs at its second Rotherham site, in Woodsetts, where planning permission was rejected by the council in the Spring, stating they would be making a fresh application later this month.
That would include the construction a well along with a new access track and other work, again with a lifespan of five years.
Rotherham Council rejected the first application unanimously, with councillors raising a series of concerns, including the potential effect on ancient woodland close to the site, in Dinnington Road.
Campaigners are expecting to decide on their next action when the application is made and full details become clear.