Thursday, 26 May 2016

CWaC's fracking, minerals and waste policies

We had a public - but it felt like a secret meeting of the Local Development Plan Working Group last week.  We were hidden away in a back room at Wyvern House, Winsford in a room rarely used for public meetings to discuss the direction of planning policy for the Borough for the next generation about:
  • minerals
  • waste
  • renewable energy and
  • fracking
I'd asked for the meeting to be webcast - so that the maximum publicity could be provided for what I knew would be a controversial meeting.  The response in tucking us away in a back room without web-casting was, in my view, shockingly disrespectful not just to me, but also to everyone in the Borough.  It may even have been a deliberate ploy with Labour trying to hide their bad news - and their complete U turn on fracking.  Curiously none of the usual vocal anti-fracking protesters were present.  This is all the more curious when last night's meeting was perhaps the most critical of all we've had a CWaC regarding fracking policy.

However this is, in my view entirely typical of a Labour Group who to my mind are afraid, and afraid of debating anything controversial in public.  We saw similar shocking tactics deployed at the previous meeting of this working group where proposals for up to 26 Gypsy and Traveller sites were sneaked out.  I protested about that then, and I continued my protest about this last night too.

Now lets not forget that CWaC Labour were elected on a manifesto last May that indicated they would bring in a moratorium on fracking.  That policy was declared unlawful by CWaC's monitoring officer last year - and I'm still waiting for CWaC Labour's explanation about that.  I also think that even suggesting such a policy shows us so much.  They should have known that policy was unlawful for a council.  If they didn't know that - then it shows they are not up to the task.  If they did know that - but cynically continued with that policy - then it shows they are not fit to run the council.

Their hypocrisy on this issue was extraordinary at the meeting.  Cllr Brian Clarke - CWaC Labour's Cabinet Members report on fracking policy was presented.  This is his suggested policy direction for fracking:

POLICY – Unconventional shale oil and gas development 
Proposals for the production of hydrocarbons will only be supported where it has been demonstrated that the further works and the surface facilities required to manage the output from the well(s), including facilities for the utilisation of energy, where relevant, accord with the plan policies.  

Proposals for hydraulic fracturing will only be permitted below 1200 metres in specified groundwater areas (source protection zones 1). 
Proposals for unconventional shale oil and gas development (all phases) will only be supported if they comply with a set of criteria relating to the following factors 
  • Above ground activity directed to the least environmentally-sensitive location. 
  • Dust and particle emissions. 
  • Levels of vibration from drilling. 
  • Illumination levels and siting and design of lighting.
  • Use of environmentally preferable alternatives to road travel where possible. 
  • Appropriate screening to prevent unacceptable impacts on visual amenity. 
  • Prevention of damage or interruption to statutory utilities or pipelines.
  • Design and location of well pads and associated plant, buildings and other structures. 
  • Availability of sufficient water resources and prevention of a detrimental impact on flow, quantity or quality of surface or groundwater. 
  • Subsidence. 
  • Cumulative impact. 
Where proposals for hydrocarbon development coincide with areas containing other underground mineral resources, evidence must be provided to demonstrate that their potential for future exploitation will not be unreasonably affected.  
Decommissioning and restoration – linked to Policy ‘Restoration of minerals sites’. 
Criteria relating to the following factors may also be included within the policy, or will be covered by the general development management policy, other Local Plan (Part Two) policies or may be sufficiently covered by existing Local Plan (Part One) policies: 
  • Landscape. 
  • Nature conservation. 
  • Biodiversity and protected sites. 
  • Historic environment. 
  • Human health. 
  • Residential amenity. 
  • Visual amenity. 
  • Soil structure and permeability. 
  • Highway safety and traffic levels. 
  • Impact on high quality agricultural land. 
  • Noise levels.
  • Public Rights of Way.
  • Retention and protection of trees. 
  • Flood risk. 
  • Surface water and groundwater. 
  • Air quality. 
I consider this, as a policy direction, to be inadequate.  

However it was endorsed by all Labour Members present at the meeting.  Even Labour Cllr Matt Bryan - who was elected on an anti-fracking platform in Upton - endorsed this pro-fracking policy and he was only there as a visiting member.  Cllr Bryan suggested he is drafting a Supplementary Planning Document on the subject.  
Yes that's correct Labour's leading anti-fracker is seemingly writing policy that will enable it to happen.  

Incidentally this 'SPD' was something Labour Chairman Cllr Rob Bisset suggested he did not know anything about.

I tabled wholesale amendments to Cllr Clarke's policy - and indeed to the very similar policies on minerals extraction, renewable energy and hazardous installations that were also under consideration.

The amendments - which are now to be considered in detail were the basis on which Lynn and I were elected in 2015 and are also CWaC Conservative policy:

We want the planning policy on fracking, minerals extraction, renewable energy etc to be amended so as to include in addition to what CWaC Labour are suggesting:

1    Openness and transparency throughout by the developer:
·         eg publication of data derived as a condition for permission to explore,
·         what it takes to mobilise and operate a site;
·         key data, biodiversity and environmental safety data, before, during and after the development
2    Good neighbour policy and arrangements required of the developer:
·         Commitment to work with communities, to be open and transparent with them
·         Public forums for concerns to be raised and responded to readily – at all stages 
·         Provision of funding so communities can obtain independent advice
·         Provision of funding so that communities can secure independent monitoring 
3     Full safety case and detailed plans
·         for all stages of the proposed development, exploration, exploitation and aftercare
4      Emergency plans, preparedness and resources
·         what one would expect under CoMAH regulations
5      Insurance and compensation arrangements
·         Demonstration how communities and the environment could be restored if something untoward happened
6      Community benefits
·         Honest up front publication of what is proposed and the arrangements for discussions, negotiations, management of funds, recipients etc
7      Consultation and local democracy
·         Commitment to holding a local poll (or referendum) or support for a parish poll or some other equally effective method of demonstrating local support for the proposed arrangements

To my mind these arrangements can be put in place through a combination of council powers,  planning policy, planning conditions, s106 Agreements, unilateral undertakings and/or the developer actually committing to these things and following through with them.

I also asked that our areas of outstanding county value be protected the same way in whcih the government is seeking to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty.  This would see much of the land to the south of Frodsham protected.

We got further evidence of Labour's fears regarding the proposal to have local referendums.  There are at least two ways to organise this formally - both of which I set out to the panel last week.  I quoted from a very recent House of Commons Library paper (2016) which included the following:

'The Government believes that councils should see and use referendums as an important tool to give local people a bigger say. The Government will therefore introduce legislation to confirm the power of councils to hold referendums. However, they would be neither obligatory nor binding except in the particular circumstances described in the previous chapter. Councils might wish to use referendums to consult their local people on such issues as major local developments or matters of particular local controversy.'

This quote came from a 1998 Labour Government white paper.  The policy became law in Local Government Act 2003 s116 - which permits councils to hold local polls.

Curiously Labour Cllr Reggie Jones described local referenda as 'a gimmick.'  They may be a gimmick to him - but for me they are an opportunity for local people to have a real say.  

In Frodsham we've seen far too much of others telling us what's good for us:
  • Labour Secretary of State imposing the Ince Resource Recovery Park with its two incinerators on us without local support;
  • Lib-Dem Secretary of State imposing the Frodsham wind farm on us - with a planning inspector claiming substantial local support for the proposal - not something I saw in Frodsham or when going door to door;
  • Adjacent Labour Council in Halton granting permission for Ineos to burn Greater Manchester's waste on our doorstep seemingly without taking our views into account.
I see local referenda as a very useful tool to encourage everyone to be open and engaging with a community.  It is also a very useful way in showing what a community really thinks. That is no gimmick.  We've shown in Frodsham with around 1/3rd of our households responding to the town-wide consultation a couple of years ago that we have a real appetite for this type of real, local engagement.