As a Chester resident, who is very worried about the potential impact of fracking in Cheshire, I was interested in an agenda item on this week’s CWAC councillors’ Cabinet meeting (on Wednesday 15th of March 2017) as it included the following item: ‘Oil and Gas Exploration, Production and Distribution – Supplementary Planning Document’. I wasn’t sure what a ‘supplementary planning document’ was but the ‘oil and gas exploration, production and distribution – aka fracking – got my attention. I did a bit of googling and found out that supplementary planning documents (SPDs) are non-statutory planning documents that are prepared by councils in consultation with the local community. They provide additional information to help with interpretation and implementation of policies that have already been agreed. SPDs are taken into account when councils make decisions on planning applications that are submitted. The weight given to SPDs should be considerable, as they are prepared in consultation with the public.
In a previous document, CWAC changed its constitution to require that all planning applications relating to oil and gas development should be dealt with by a planning committee (elected councillors) rather than by council officers (employees) alone; this was really important in terms of democratically elected representatives having a say. An important point in the new document, which was being discussed on Wednesday, is that planning permission for exploration and appraisal does not mean that long-term production / more wells being created will be automatic.
This seemed pretty important then, so I checked if the public could attend CWAC cabinet meetings – which they can – and went along to the meeting at HQ. A local resident (Mike Garvey from Frodsham) spoke passionately on this issue and very much reflected the voice of many residents who are opposed to fracking. (The public are just observers with the exception of individuals who apply beforehand to speak and are given the go ahead). Councillor Matt Bryan also spoke in favour of adopting the SPD. His uncompromising, direct and honest speech, raised a shouted ‘Point of order, Chair’ from Lynn Riley (Conservative Councillor for Frodsham) as she clearly did not like what she was hearing; Councillor Riley was ignored by the Chair. The SPD was then put forward, seconded and adopted by the council.
This is a great move forward and even though it doesn’t provide any cast iron guarantees (as Lancashire has seen local planning decisions overruled) it does at least give me some confidence that the majority of our councillors at least, are keen to keep control of the fracking situation.
As for the part I played as a local resident observing, it may have seemed small but there were quite a few of us and the councillors knew why we were there … let’s keep them on their toes and remind them that we will stand against fracking and that that might well affect how we vote next time.
And Cllr Matt Bryan has provided his thoughts on the SPD, which Lynn Riley did not like –
“I would like to speak tonight in full support of our supplementary planning document for onshore oil and gas. I’d like to pay a special thanks to our spacial planning team led by Jill Smith. Thank you for the keen attention to detail which was paid to consultation comments and also to making the last minute amendments I requested at the local plan meeting.
A supplementary planning document as we know cannot create new policy but it can enshrine existing policy which I believe this document has done to a very high standard without leaving members in the predicament of pre-determination.
This a view shared by my colleagues in the anti-fracking movement and residents in my ward of Upton. It also reassures residents that the issue of fracking and onshore oil and gas is an issue that this council takes incredibly seriously.
Members of the opposition have shamefully tried to hijack this document citing it doesn’t go far enough. This bizarre and counter-productive stance has been led and driven by the very same man who begged IGas to frack Frodsham first at Shale Gas World 2013 and also advocated the brain-washing of school children by the industry into the apparent benefits of fracking. Councillor Dawson and his pro-fracking Tory chums cannot be trusted on this issue.
The threat of fracking has not gone away in Cheshire West. Only three months ago IGas applied to make a deed of variation to their coal bed methane production permission which was granted in secret by the previous Conservative administration in Ellesmere Port. Their application was refused and they were advised to send in a new full application which will be heard in a public forum by a planning committee, this is a direct result of innovative Labour policy made to our constitution.
This SPD will provide additional guidance and a framework to deal with new applications and robust new policy will come into play in our local plan part 2. I urge the cabinet to approve this important document.”
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