Council pulls road safety objection over fracking firm’s plan for exploratory drilling in Woodsetts

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Attempts to block exploratory work by a fracking firm in a village near Worksop have been dealt a blow after a council withdrew an objection to the scheme on traffic grounds.

Rotherham Council’s planning board rejected an application for drilling work in Woodsetts, to establish whether the area was suitable for fracking work to release gas locked in rocks deep underground, citing traffic issues on roads in the district as an issue, along with the noise and disturbance the work would cause.

Fracking company Ineos made the original application and has appealed against the council’s decision, meaning the case will be considered at a public inquiry.

But councillors have dropped their objection on traffic grounds after being told that five out of six external consultants they approached were unwilling to represent them, because they could see no case which could win the argument.

The council will continue to oppose the application on the grounds of noise and disturbance.

Woodsetts Against Fracking group, made up of objectors in the area, has been granted the unusual status of being able to employ their own barrister and cross examine witnesses at the hearing, giving them the same legal weight as the council.

Councillors decided to drop the traffic objection after hearing a report which said only one consultancy firm was willing to represent the authority. They also heard legal advice that costs could be awarded in cases where it was seen an argument “doesn’t hold merit.”

Coun Alan Atkins said: “We have a moral duty to the public purse. If we think we are throwing good money after bad, we would be failing in our public duty (to continue).

Coun John Williams told the meeting: “We have a legal responsibility, we have to make good, sound and responsible decisions.

“What has changed is members took a decision on the arguments they heard.

“The council has made an effort to defend that reason. Five (consultants) have said no and only one has shown some interest in taking that work on. I think that is serious evidence for us to consider.”

A representative for the Woodsetts Against Fracking group argued that the council should pursue the objection on traffic grounds – a decision taken against their own planning officers’ advice when planning permission was refused in September.

“I cannot see any reason to change the view we put forward,” she said.

“I am not saying this lightly. I think we have to look at what we do and are as a planning board. It seems to suggest we are superfluous if we accept officers are always right.”

Ineos have described the situation as “a waste of time” with chief operating officer Tom Pickering stating the company was “pleased” by the council decision.

“This has been a waste of time and money for everyone involved and we are disappointed that this objection was mounted in the first place,” he said.

“The council has now acknowledged that defending a planning enquiry on the grounds it presented was a futile exercise that would incur significant cost and that dropping it was pragmatic and appropriate.

“We regret that this outbreak of common sense didn’t occur earlier and that the council’s frivolous attitude to public money still continues in the form of their other objections to the scheme.

“Our plans are for the drilling of a single vertical core well to gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface – as has been agreed by many councils many times in the past to support the coal industry in the region.

“This may or may not lead to a thriving shale industry; what is certain is that it will help to inform us all based on science, whether or not the geological characteristics necessary to underpin such an industry exist,” he said.