"Slow, unpredictable and costly" – where next for shale gas?

Posted by Dr Mark Broomfield on 29 June 2015

Lancashire County Council has decided to refuse permission for shale gas exploration at two sites near Blackpool.

It's deja vu all over again... well, almost. Back in January, I published an item on my LinkedIn account, about the anticipated planning decisions from Lancashire County Council on proposals for exploratory shale gas developments at two sites - Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road near Blackpool. At that stage, officers were recommending refusal on the grounds of noise and traffic impacts. Planning decisions were postponed pending further investigatory work.

Five months and a lot of work later, the Council planners recommended approval of the Preston New Road application - so it's not quite deja vu. However, officers have continued to recommend refusal of the Roseacre Wood application on the grounds that "it would generate an increase in traffic, particularly HGV movements, that would result in an unacceptable impact on the rural highway network and on existing road users."

The planning applications were considered at a week-long series of meetings. The strength of public feeling was clear – as well as the public demonstrations outside the meeting, over 18,000 representations opposed to the Preston New Road development were received, compared to 217 letters of support. The Daily Telegraph even ran a rolling news service on Tuesday and again this morning.

In view of the weight of public perception and the officers' recommendation, it was not surprising that the Roseacre Wood application was turned down last week. That doesn't mean it's the end of the road for this application, of course, as it would be open to the applicant to appeal this decision.

The more finely balanced decision on the Preston New Road application was reached this morning (Monday 29 June) – I understand from the BBC that the Council has rejected this application as well – going against the Council planners’ recommendation. At this stage, we don't have any details on the reasons for refusal, although there was discussion of visual impact of development in the countryside last week.

Will the Preston New Road decision be appealed? The officers' recommendation was for approval and legal advice to the Committee suggested that it would be difficult to defend a position of refusal. This all points towards the likelihood of an appeal - if the applicant is up for all the time and money that an appeal would entail.

The bigger issue is the growing split between national policy, which is supportive of shale gas development, and substantial delays and obstacles at the local planning level. Of course, local planning decisions must be taken on the basis of local issues and policies. But with the two applications at Lancashire being refused, even if one or both are subsequently approved on appeal, the planning process becomes increasingly slow, unpredictable and costly... all adjectives that investors and businesses don't like.

The UK shale gas industry might be looking at a slow strangulation and that would be wrong. The planning process should deal with local issues, but should not be the means of frustrating national policy.

Dr Mark Broomfield



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