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Consultation Response to Fracking as Permitted Development

Response from the South Downs Society (Friends of the South Downs).

The ‘Friends of the South Downs‘ is the membership charity, working to campaign, protect and conserve the landscape of the National Park.

These are the views of the District Officers – who respond to planning consultations and Local Planning Issues on behalf of the Society.


We do not consider that the scope of drilling exploration fits within the definition of permitted development.  It has landscape impact and restoration consequences; archaeological implications; aquifer implications; earth tremor implications for historic structures; and traffic implications on rural roads that may need Grampian conditions to alleviate.  This is well beyond the scope of permitted development even if the permission is time limited.

Permitted development is not used for temporary planning permissions but for minor works to which ‘a reasonable person’ would not take exception.

Requiring Planning Permission is not onerous in itself but it does have in place checklists to ensure that development proceeds in an orderly and neighbourly manner.

The Background Statement makes the assumption that Fracking to extract gas is a non controversial benefit whereas in terms of the government’s intent to become carbon neutral, it is a retrograde step, quite apart from its potential landscape impacts.  The opening statement is disingenuous and should be balanced with the cons as well as stating the government’s current pros.

If Fracking is ‘safe and sustainable’ then the industry needs to declare just what is being pumped underground.  As we understand , it is not “water” as stated on national television last week by a Fracking Industry spokesman for Cuadrilla.

It is not understood how such a large operation, considered to be part of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project could possibly be also regarded as permitted development. 

Permitted development is for non controversial matters and that is not the case with exploration for gas to be extracted by Fracking.

Paragraph 10 would be more honoured in the breach than the observance if fracking exploration ignored and overruled the democratic concerns of local communities as has happened in Lancashire.

Question 1

  1. a) Do you agree with this definition to limit a permitted development right to non- hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration? Yes/ No
  2. b) If No, what definition would be appropriate?

No permitted development right should be granted.  The drilling compound is a large structure and would not be clearly defined and bounded resulting in an unsightly impact in an open landscape and harm in a woodland one.  The drilling rig is a high structure and could be an intrusive and ugly feature in an otherwise undeveloped rural area.  There are noise implications for the activity and traffic implications often on narrow country lanes. There would be no control over the restoration of the site.  There would be no search required for archaeological impacts, no search for impact on SSSIs or protected landscapes.  A temporary planning permission that sets out restoration measures and a financial bond to make sure it occurs should be required.  This would also define the boundaries of the site and hours of operation and traffic routes if necessary or Grampian works to provide access where essential to protect the public.

Question 2

Should non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development be granted planning permission through a permitted development right? Yes/ No

Surely this should be question 1?

It is new, unproven technology and highly controversial in the public’s eye.  Riding roughshod over public concerns as in Lancashire has sent out entirely the wrong message.  Secrecy about the liquid, called a “toxic cocktail” by objectors and ‘water under pressure by the operator’ has not allayed public fears regarding the long term pollution of our water supply.  Britain has a complex fractured geology, not vast uniform beds as found in the USA.  We are a crumple zone.  The precautionary principle should be followed and each application properly scrutinized under full planning regulations, including a financial deposit to ensure restoration if a temporary site proves to be un-useful or a company fails.

Question 3

  1. a) Do you agree that a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development would not apply to the following? Yes/No

This is worded in a misleading manner in that we hold that  Permitted Development  should not regarded as appropriate under any circumstances.

However if the Government goes ahead then clearly the exclusions should apply to specially protected landscapes and their settings.  Any adverse noise or visual impact or traffic impact is also unacceptable.  The deposit of sufficient finance for site restoration and any water supply pollution should also be required.

It is not clear why if fracking is regarded as a ‘safe’ activity by the current government, that it considers that safety hazard areas, military explosive areas and land safeguarded for aviation or defence purposes should be on the list of land where fracking exploration is to be avoided.  An explanation of the reason for the inclusion of these areas would be welcomed.

To this list should be added areas of dark skies or tranquility – usually tracts of undeveloped countryside defined in adopted Plans where flaring floodlit working and noise of drilling or heavy traffic would be in appropriate..

Question 4

What conditions and restrictions would be appropriate for a permitted development right for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration development?

The list takes permitted development into planning permission territory where it is required to ensure there is compliance with all of the listed organisations within a reasonable time frame.  Despite the government’s support for “localism” and the involvement of local communities in planning their future development, this controversial activity goes against localism in that it actively precludes the need to consult locally as with planning applications.  I.e. that they should be advertised and comments received from the affected community.  It would be appropriate to add to the list that all exploratory drilling operations should be advertised and comments sought from the affected communities.

Question 5

Do you have comments on the potential considerations that a developer should apply to the local planning authority for a determination, before beginning the development?

Prior approval – in theory this is used for urgent national infrastructure e.g. telephone masts or agricultural buildings.  The problem with prior approval arises where there is a time limit set.  The cuts to front line planning staff caused by the shortage of funds at present to employ sufficient staff, mean that planning case officers can have impossible work loads.  Prior approval will only work if there is no 60 or 90 day deadline.  Getting responses form overworked understaffed government departments within the deadline is also problematic.  Given the need for legal agreements to ensure restoration or any Grampian conditions in practice it is unlikely to be satisfactory without extra resources given to both local and central government for front line staff.

It would not be acceptable for activity to start on any site within a Local Authority’s jurisdiction without warning. This could heighten any local concerns and ride roughshod over local democracy.  Local knowledge and acceptance is an essential part of information gathering for any planning process.  This is why localism was introduced in Neighbourhood Plan Making. 

Question 6

Should a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development only apply for 2 years, or be made permanent?

No, it should not be permanent as  Permitted Development.  Exploratory drilling is noisy and intrusive.  It is not a minor non controversial activity but one that excites much public concern.

Making Permitted Development sites a permanent permission is unsuitable for operations of this scale.  It does not apply to other ‘greener’ power generation like wind power generation sites or off shore wind farms.  If  Permitted Development is just for exploration, then the results should be available in less than two years and 18 months should be sufficient. 

Question 7

Do you have any views on the potential impact of the matters raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010?

This consultation uses jargon and there does not appear to be a plain English version available.  That will restrict it being accessible to many groups with learning or reading difficulties or restricted English.  It is available on line thereby excluding a quarter to a third of all households from being aware of the consultation at all.  The closing of local libraries also cuts access on line for those without such facilities at home. I could not see an audio version for those with no or poor eyesight. 

It does appear that by proposing that planning permission is not required for a controversial activity; and by making fracking exploration a Permitted Development activity; to be a deliberate intent to exclude local democratic institutions from any involvement in an activity which has clearly caused public alarm.  The ‘public sector’ would be actively excluded from involvement in exploratory drilling considerations if the proposals in this document go ahead.

It is our considered opinion that full planning applications should be submitted for such a controversial activity.

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The Shale Wealth Fund: compensating local communities

Government is consulting on the creation of a fund to ensure that local communities where shale gas is being extracted (“fracking”) benefit from that activity. The Society has responded to the consultation as follows:

 

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park.

The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is campaigning for the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the national park and their quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

We note an emphasis in the consultation on the role of shale gas in regional development and the wish (para 1.19) to “rebalance growth across the regions”. The need for such a rebalancing is clearly less in evidence in the south east, unless it is intended to suggest that this region be accordingly afforded lower priority in pressures for exploitation.

We query what is intended by the expression (para 3.3) “shale sites themselves are small, with a lesser visual impact than many other forms of development.”  It is our understanding that the visual impact – as well as aural, disturbance, aerial and subterranean impacts – will be considerable, and significantly greater than for conventional fossil fuel exploitation, owing in part to an increased number and frequency of wellheads.

We address below the consultation questions on which we wish to express a view.

Consultation Question 1: Do you think that providing opportunities for both local and regional investments are the right priorities for the Shale Wealth Fund?

Yes. While residents and others may be affected locally by visual and other impacts and traffic, there may be regional impacts such as effects on aquifers (notwithstanding government assurances) and the tourist economy.

Consultation Question 2: Do you agree that a more local level should receive revenues before a more regional level (establishing the ‘trickle up’ principle)?

No. This may provide an undesirable incentive to some local communities to seek to outweigh any genuine planning and environmental concerns with money or investment. Planning decisions should not be made on those lines. This seems less likely to happen at regional level.

Consultation Question 4: Should the government retain flexibility regarding the proportion of funding between delivering benefits at local and regional levels, to enable learning from the industry pilot schemes and once the magnitude of shale revenues becomes clearer?

Yes.

Consultation Question 5: Do you have views on how the “local community” to a shale site should be defined for the purposes of the Shale Wealth Fund?

The community should be defined to include those likely to be affected by activities associated with extraction, such as lorry movements, as well as those directly affected by a drilling site by living close by.

Consultation Question 6: Do you agree that the “local community” should be defined on a case-by case basis?

Yes.

Consultation Question 7: Do you think a set of principles should be developed to ensure consistency of approach for different shale developments?

Yes.

Consultation Question 9: Do you agree that at a local level, it should be for local people to determine how the Shale Wealth Fund is spent?

While local people should be involved in the decision making, there should be objectives or criteria set for the funding to ensure it is used to compensate for the full range of impacts from fracking, including allocating to projects which improve the natural environment under threat.

Consultation Question 11: At the local level, should expenditure from the Shale Wealth Fund be subject to any ring-fences for a specific purpose? If so, should these be locally or centrally determined, and do you have views on what they should be?

A significant part of any extraction could take place beneath the South Downs National Park despite robust arguments having been made against that. If so, given the national park statutory purposes of conservation, understanding and enjoyment, it would be appropriate not only to compensate local communities but also recreational users of those parts of the park affected by fracking related activities, either beneath, within or close to the park. This would indicate a need for part of the fund within a national park to be ring-fenced to provide environmental enhancements and improved access, preferably to be allocated by the national park authority.

Consultation Question 12: At the local level, would an appropriate use of the Shale Wealth Fund be to make direct payments to households?

No. Other than, say, compensation for subsidence, other physical damage or blight – which should presumably be handled separately – it would be inappropriate for individual householders to be incentivised to overcome any legitimate concerns they may have about the proposed activity in order to unbalance the consideration of proper planning issues.

Consultation Question 14: How can the government ensure that decisions are as directly influenced by local residents as possible?

By affording more scope for local planning authorities (the traditional and democratically accountable mechanism) to consider the full range of potential effects of any proposal including aerial and subterranean impacts; and by discouraging ministers and planning inspectors from overruling the planning decisions made.

Consultation Question 16: What kind of investments do you think should be made from a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund?

It would be appropriate to include investment in the natural environment and reductions in carbon emissions to compensate for the negative impacts of fracking including climate change.

Consultation Question 17: Do you think a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund should be administered by direct grants to specific organisations, or through an open bidding process? How can the views of residents across the regions be best taken into account?

We would support an open bidding process, enabling environmental organisations like ourselves, as well as community groups, to apply for funding. If it were decided to allocate funds direct to specific organisations, that should include the national park authorities where they have planning responsibilities for any areas affected by fracking and associated activity.

Consultation Question 18: Do you have views on how a regional level of the Shale Wealth Fund should be governed? Are there existing regional organisations, or local or national governance structures that would be particularly suited to oversight of such a fund?

National park authorities should be responsible for, or at least involved in, the governance of any fund disbursed in a national park.

 

Click on this link for the consultation paper and full list of questions:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544241/shale_wealth_fund_final_pdf-a.pdf

 

 

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National Park Society Welcomes Fracking Ban

During debate in parliament on the Infrastructure Bill, the Energy Minister has made it clear this week that the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract shale oil and gas has the government’s support but, in response to growing concerns, no licence would be issued in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty or sites of special scientific interest. The Society has issued a press release welcoming the government’s commitment to safeguarding the national park, while reiterating its concern about possible implications for the wider countryside and climate change. The full text of the press release is as follows:

 

“The official ‘Friends’ organisation for the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Society, today welcomed a government commitment to keep fracking out of the country’s national parks.

 

In Monday’s parliamentary debate on the Infrastructure Bill, Energy Minister Amber Rudd told MPs that an existing loophole allowing “unconventional” drilling for shale oil and gas in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest in “exceptional circumstances” would be closed. The announcement follows widespread opposition to fracking from both national environmental organisations and local communities.

 

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer Steve Ankers, ‘This is good news for our most treasured landscapes and follows a lot of hard work by groups like ours across the country. Politicians have listened to the justified concerns of their constituents and this shows what can be achieved when people speak out. The South Downs National Park Authority took a strong line last year in refusing planning permission for oil and gas exploration before it could even get to the extraction stage. We and others warmly welcomed that decision at the time and it looks like MPs took notice. There are a lot of environmental unknowns with fracking, in addition to its inevitable contribution to climate change, and government needs to think very hard about its unquestioning support in the rest of the countryside – but at least the ban in national parks announced on Monday is a positive step.'”

 

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Fernhurst to stay Frack Free

At its meeting on 11 September the National Park’s Planning Committee rejected a planning application from Celtique Energie for exploratory drilling for “hydrocarbons” (or, oil and gas) at a site in the park near Fernhurst, West Sussex.  This application had been highly publicised and very controversial as it has been widely assumed that, should extraction follow the exploratory drilling, it would be by “unconventional means”, or fracking.

Attendance at the meeting was by ticket only. From a large number of organisations and individuals who had expressed an interest in addressing the committee with their objections, local campaigners asked the Society to lead off.  At the end of the two hour meeting the committee unanimously resolved to refuse the application.

Whatever the company may have had in mind by way of future extraction, the committee was at pains to stress that it could only consider the specific proposal in front of it — for exploration –; but members clearly expressed what they viewed as fundamental conflicts between the proposed drilling and the purposes for which the National Park had been designated.

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Press release from the Society February 2014: Drilling for gas in the national park? No thanks!

Drilling for gas in the national park? No thanks!

 National Park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has thrown its weight behind objections to a proposal for an exploratory drill for shale gas near Fernhurst, West Sussex.

“The current planning application may only be for exploration,” says Society chairman Robert Cheesman, but “we can have a good idea about what might happen next. This Society supports renewable energy – at the right scale and in the right place – over the extraction and burning of more fossil fuels. And running a major gas extraction operation within the national park can’t be right. It runs counter to government planning policy.”

A range of environmental organisations, as well as local residents, are campaigning against the proposals from Celtique Energie and are pressing for them to be rejected by the South Downs National Park Planning Committee when it considers the application. If gas is found in sufficient quantities, the controversial fracking technique may be used to extract it – and, as well as the likely setback to meeting the country’s climate change targets, there are major concerns about the risks, experienced elsewhere, of seismic activity and the pollution of underground water sources.

Says Robert Cheesman, “Government is telling local planning authorities not to worry about these uncertainties but as a Society – with both a large and a small “s” – we are entitled to reassurance.”

The South Downs Society has today submitted its response to the planning application, pointing out that the choice of a location within the national park has not been justified. The Society’s comments have also included its strong concerns over landscape damage, unacceptable levels of lorry traffic, noise and light pollution, loss of tranquillity, threat to local archaeological heritage and impact on enjoyment of the national park and its network of rights of way.