Cheshire councillors adopt new oil and gas policy document

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BY RUTH HAYHURST ON MARCH 15, 2017

A council in what could be one of the country’s leading shale gas areas has agreed a new policy document to help it deal with planning applications.

Cheshire West and Chester Council – where almost the entire area is licensed for oil and gas – adopted a supplemental policy document (SPD) on onshore hydrocarbons at a meeting of the cabinet this evening.

SPDs are used to provide further detail and guidance on the implementation of policies and proposals contained in existing Local Plans. They are not statutory development plan documents but they can, once adopted, be a material consideration in deciding planning applications.

In writing the SPD, Labour-led Cheshire West and Chester changed its constitution to require all planning applications relating to oil and gas development to be dealt with by a planning committee, rather than by delegation to council officers.

The new document refers to the HS2 rail line as a potential constraint on oil and gas development. It also makes clear that planning permission for exploration and appraisal does not carry with it any presumption that long-term production from those wells, or that the development of further wells, will be permitted.

The SPD sets out the key issues it expects developers to address when making planning applications for oil and gas. These include: noise, air quality, surface and groundwater protection, flaring, landscape and visual impacts, traffic and transport, site restoration and after care, flood risk, heritage assets, nature conservation, land stability, soils and agriculture, economic impact, health and cumulative effects.

It defines the standards that the council would expect a development to meet. On noise, for example, it says:

“The noise impact assessment should demonstrate that the noise levels as a result of the development shall be 5dB(A) or more below the measured background level at the nearest facade of the residential property when measured as a rating level in accordance with British Standard BS4142:2014”.

Some members of the working party drawing up the document wanted to include a requirement that local communities must support an oil and gas development – as allowed by government policy for onshore wind energy. But other members and council officers said this could not be included because there was no similar policy for oil and gas proposals.

Mike Garvey, of Frack Free Frodsham and Helsby, (pictured left) welcomed the SPD. He told the Cabinet:

“In the absence of a complete ban it offers the greatest protection against the effects of fracking within our democratic process.”

He said the document had provided clarity, detail and explanation.

“It effectively deals with our concerns without tying the hands of elected representatives with any suggestion of pre-determination.”

Cllr Matt Bryon, who represents Upton and opposes fracking, said the SPD enshrined existing policy to a high standard.

“It also reassures residents that the issue of fracking and onshore oil and gas is an issue that this council takes incredibly seriously.”

Cllr Bryon added:

“The issue 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.

“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.”

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