Lancashire

Fracking bid should be approved, Lancashire council officers say

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Media captionIf approved, this rural site in Lancashire will be transformed into a fracking zone, as John Moylan reports

Fracking should be allowed at one of two sites on the Fylde coast in Lancashire, a report has recommended.

Lancashire County Council's most senior planning officer was responding to an application by energy firm Cuadrilla to extract shale gas at Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood.

The application for Little Plumpton has been recommended for approval. Roseacre Wood has been recommended for refusal.

The final decisions will be taken by councillors next week.

The recommendation of approval is for test fracking at the site. If Cuadrilla intends to undertake commercial fracking it would require a separate application.

If approved it would be the first time a council has backed an application to frack, drill and test flow the gas and the first fracking since tests near Blackpool were deemed the "likely cause" of earth tremors in 2011.

A government report published in June 2012 concluded fracking was safe, if adequately monitored.

Cuadrilla submitted revised plans for the Fylde sites after planning officers recommended refusal for both sites in January for different reasons.

'Listen to people'

Planning officers had previously said the site at Preston New Road should be turned down because of concerns over the impact of noise.

But now they have recommended its approval if a number of conditions are met, including controlling time limits, hours of working and highway matters.

Image caption Protesters gathered at Lancashire County Council to hear the report recommendations

At the Roseacre Wood site, planning officers maintained there would be an increase in traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles, which would result in "an unacceptable impact" on rural roads.

Furqan Naeem, from Friends of the Earth, said preventing fracking was one of the organisation's "priority campaigns" as "people generally don't want it".

He said if Cuadrilla was given permission to operate, it would "set a precedent".

"They will not only drill holes in Lancashire, they will do it all over the UK," he said.

"The council must now listen to the tens of thousands of people who have objected to fracking at both sites, and the strong evidence put before them, and reject both of Cuadrilla's proposals to frack."


Analysis

Judy Hobson, BBC North West Tonight

This isn't the final decision but it's encouraging news for Cuadrilla and the fracking companies in the UK.

Make no mistake, the eyes of the shale gas industry are on Lancashire.

Next week's planning committee vote will set the scene for the industry nationally because it's the first time someone has applied to test frack on this scale on the UK mainland.

The planning committee may not accept the officers' recommendations: they could still reject the application for Preston New Road. And if Cuadrilla can persuade them that they can reduce traffic flow at Roseacre Wood, they could still approve that.

This application is to drill and test flow shale gas only so we are no nearer knowing whether or not there will be fracking in Lancashire. If Cuadrilla want to produce the gas commercially, they will have to make a new application.


Tina Rothery anti-fracking campaigner with Frack Free Lancashire said she was "concerned" but it was "not a done deal" yet.

"Councillors still have a lot of people to listen to including presentations from residents who are opposing fracking before a final decision is made," she said.

Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - is a technique in which water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.

However, anti-fracking campaigners claim the process is harmful to the environment.

In a statement, Cuadrilla said it was "pleased" at the Preston New Road decision but expressed disappointment at the Roseacre Wood recommendation, saying it had addressed traffic concerns raised in the original officer's report.

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