Response to North East Derbyshire’s latest Local Plan consultation

As many residents will know, North East Derbyshire District Council have recently closed the latest consultation on their draft Local Plan (2014 – 2034) – the document which outlines how our area should change and develop in the coming decade.  This is a hugely important document which covers housebuilding, commercial & businesses and the regeneration and improvement of our towns.

I have had serious concerns about this plan since being elected last year – it is years late, ill-thought through and has seriously over-estimated the number of houses needing to be built in North East Derbyshire.  We do need new houses to be built – but North East Derbyshire have failed to justify the sheer scale of building that they are proposing over the next fifteen years.

Along with many other residents, I have objected to the plans put forward by the Council.  You can find a copy of my objection here: Local Plan response – 05042018

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Bramleymoor Lane: Response to Officer Report

Last Friday, Derbyshire County Council officers published their assessment of the application for exploratory drilling and their recommendation to Councillors who, on Monday 5th February, will decide the County Council’s position on this application.  Hugely disappointingly, Council officers did not recommend refusal of this application despite the clear planning reasons for doing so.

Along with many hundreds of other residents, I will be attending the County Council’s meeting today where they make their decision.  I will also be speaking to urge County Councillors to reject this application.

In anticipation of the meeting, I have sent the Committee a letter outlining my concerns regarding the report published.  Please find a copy of it below.

“Dear Councillors,

Last Friday, Derbyshire County Council planning officers published their assessment of the application by Ineos Upstream to drill on an exploratory basis at Bramleymoor Lane, Marsh Lane, Derbyshire.  I write in advance of your meeting on Monday to highlight a number of points for your consideration and to draw your attention to a number of concerns regarding the report published.

I am on record as strongly opposing this application and I have previously written to the County Council outlining my substantial objections.  I have enclosed a copy of this objection in case it is helpful.

I know much effort has been required on the part of County Council officers to review Ineos’s proposal and the many thousands of comments that have been generated by it.   I share the disappointment of the Council that the applicant has not entrusted the final decision with you, particularly given the fact that they were feeding additional information to your officers only a few weeks before they declared non-determination.  Hugely important decisions like this one should be taken locally.

Nonetheless, having reviewed officer’s comments, I am extremely concerned that the weighting proposed by them does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground.  Only a few days ago in Rotherham, similar planning and highways experts recommended refusal for a very similar application from Ineos – confirming that there is a clear basis for refusal in our area too.  Whilst I respect the officer’s assessment, you know that planning decisions are ones which require balance and judgement.

In our system, the ultimate decision (so long as it is not removed from them by the applicant declaring non-determination) rests not with experts but with elected representative such as yourselves.  Officer advice is to be respected and carefully considered but, ultimately, you have the choice as to whether to accept or reject it.  I hope, after weighing the evidence and the planning frameworks in place in North East Derbyshire, that you will conclude as I, and thousands of other people have, that this application does not conform with the planning policies in place.

I am particularly concerned about the following aspects of the report:

  • The Council’s assessment of the cumulative impact of activity on or near to this site;
  • The assessment and weighting placed on certain planning matters by Council officers, and;
  • The continued omission of a number of pieces of important data which I believe would be required in the event that the Council was minded to approve this application.

Assessment of cumulative impact

Whilst the report considers the impact of other (non-fracking) mining extractions nearby and other exploratory drilling proposals, it takes the clear position that “there are no potential cumulative impacts in relation to hydraulic fracturing, or further phases of shale gas development generally, to consider.” [1]

Divorcing the exploration for shale gas with its eventual production, as the officers propose, is an entirely artificial and arbitrary distinction to make.  Ineos is a company which, according to its own website, is committed to the production of shale gas.  The permissions of the licences that Ineos hold to undertake this work do not stop at simply exploration; indeed they are entitled “Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences.”  The eventual exploitation and extraction of shale gas underneath Bramleymoor Lane is the objective of this activity.  The application before you must be considered on that basis.

The officer report appears to make this arbitrary distinction as a result of placing great weight on paragraph 147 of the National Planning Policy Framework.  In my view, this is incorrect for the following reasons:

  1. As the officer’s report outlines, NPPF paragraph 147 provides only “limited guidance”;
  2. The NPPF guidance elsewhere requires local authorities to undertake a number of other activities with regards to their minerals policy (including defining Minerals Safeguarding Areas); states that you should take into account “the cumulative impact of multiple impacts from individual sites”; and states that “cumulative landscape and visual impacts” should be considered – meaning that the document needs to considered in the round, rather than placing excessive weight on a single paragraph;
  3. The Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan, which needs to be considered alongside the NPPF, states clearly that “proposals for mineral development will not be permitted … in particular where: development would result in an unacceptable cumulative impact on the environment of an area”, and;
  4. The Minister responsible for fracking (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), during a debate in Parliament on the very subject of Bramleymoor Lane on 22 November 2017 made the following statement: “the cumulative effect of shale developments need to be taken into account.”

Having made the statement that future phases of fracking should not be considered hen deciding on this application, the report also appears inconsistent on this very point in a number of places:

  • Planning officers refer to the Government’s Annual Energy Statement and suggest that there is support for the type of development in question “as a means of securing indigenous energy supplies” – meaning, ultimately, that Bramleymoor Lane would have to be fracked[2];
  • Planning officers reference a High Court appeal decision which states that exploratory drilling should be treated as part of “mineral extraction” for the purposes of assessing whether it would be appropriate in the Green Belt[3];
  • Planning officers accept that exploratory drilling is a first step in assessing whether reserves are “worth exploiting[4], and;
  • Whole chunks of the report itself are dedicated to consideration of what happens beyond exploratory drilling (pages 47 – 49 assessment of the National Energy Policy, pages 49 – 50 discussion of regulatory regimes covering extraction).

Moreover, and most importantly, at least one phase of this application in front of you tomorrow is not actually for exploratory drilling but is instead requesting permission for the use of this site for activities on the assumption that fracking is taking place elsewhere.  You are being asked to give permission for Bramleymoor Lane to be used as a “listening well”.  Listening wells, by the reports own admission, would relate to “hydraulic fracturing from any well elsewhere[5].”

On that basis, it is fundamentally contradictory to suggest that you, as Councillors, must not consider the cumulative impacts of future phases of fracking at this or nearby locations whilst, at the same time, requesting that you give permission for this site to be used as a support location for such future fracking.  If you are being asked to give consent for a listening well which supports full-scale fracking elsewhere, then you must be able to consider the cumulative impact of that fracking.  And, if that is the case, you must therefore consider the potential for either exploratory drilling or fracking sites every few kilometres across the county from Bolsover and Killamarsh to Alfreton and Ripley, from Long Eaton to Ilkeston; something which is quite clearly contrary to all planning advice regarding greenbelt and landscape and visual intrusion.

For all of the above reasons, I believe that the treatment of cumulative in the report is erroneous and believe that you, as the ultimate deciders of Derbyshire County Council’s position on the matter, must take into account the more broad, cumulative impact of what might result from this exploratory drilling proposed.

Assessment and weighting within the report

I am also concerned about a number of conclusions that the report makes in proposing that the application should be not be rejected:

Greenbelt

The report itself acknowledges the following:

  1. That the proposed location is within the greenbelt;
  2. That the Government attaches great importance to greenbelts;
  3. That this particularly location is a “strategically important area of Green Belt”;
  4. That there is a general presumption against development in the Green Belt;
  5. That the NPPF advises that inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt;
  6. That substantial weight should be given to any harm to the Green Belt;
  7. That applications should only be approved in “very special circumstances”;
  8. That mineral extraction should only be permitted where it preserves the openness of the Green Belt, and;
  9. That the proposal “would conflict with one essential characteristic, openness and one of the purposes of the Green Belt” [6]

Yet, inexplicably, all of these accepted issues with the application are then dismissed by officers on the basis that the application will be “temporary”[7].  The report does not acknowledge policy GS8 in the North East Derbyshire Local Plan that temporary planning proposals “will be subject to the same planning, amenity and highway considerations applied to permanent uses.”[8]  On that basis, the multitude of issues that this application has with its greenbelt location – all of which are acknowledged by officers – simply cannot be dismissed on the basis of their temporary nature and, as a result, this application clearly contravenes policy relating to the greenbelt and should be rejected on that basis alone

Landscape and visual impacts

The report acknowledges that the visual impact of the application is likely to be greater than Ineos have initially suggested.  Despite this, officers conclude that the impact would not “be significant overall” outside of the use of a 60m rig during the initial stages and that any visual impact could be “softened through detailed design”.  According, however, to the applicant’s own documentation, the following industrial equipment and machinery would be on site during a period where officers consider there to be no significant impact:

  1. A perimeter 2.0m high fence;
  2. An additional 4.8m high combination of bunding and further fencing;
  3. 2 – 3 cabins of up to 3.0m height;
  4. Acoustic screening of up to 5.0m height;
  5. Up to 4 security cameras of up to 5.5m height;
  6. A lighting rig of up to 9.0m high;
  7. A 2.9m high power generator;
  8. 2 water tanks of up to 3.0m height;
  9. A 10m high emergency vent;
  10. A 4.5m high Kooney pressure control, and;
  11. A 4.0m high blow out preventor and skid and choke manifold.

All of this equipment would be placed on the brow of a hill within a valley at a location that can be seen from a number of positions from miles around and just a few hundred metres from the village of Marsh Lane.  It is simply not plausible to suggest, for example, that vents up to 10m high in a rural location are not significant. On that basis, it is my view that the weighting applied to visual and landscape impact is insufficient and the application should be rejected on this basis.

Omission of data

Whilst the officer’s report is comprehensive and detailed, it both (i) highlights a number of areas where it acknowledges that Ineos have not provided information and (ii) has not adequately dealt with a number of questions raised by objectors.

Areas of concern include:

  1. Assessments of HGV movements: Multiple objectors have highlighted the apparent inconsistency in the submissions by the applicant regarding whether the number of HGVs caused by exploratory drilling would exceed the 30% increase which would trigger further analysis and more detailed assessment. The officer report does not deal with this issue and therefore the report is inadequate in dealing with whether MP1 of the Minerals Plan has been contravened.
  2. Traffic impact: the report states that the development would not be “unacceptable in terms of traffic and highway safety”[9] yet does not deal with the issue that the Department for Transport would likely classify the impact of this application as high given that there are at least 200 houses on or close by to the roads in Coal Aston which is on the chosen route to access the site.
  3. Greenbelt: the report suggests the only one purpose of the greenbelt is transgressed by this application (the safeguarding of the countryside from encroachment). At least one other purpose, however, (the greenbelt should be protected in order to assist in urban regeneration through the recycling of derelict and other urban land) is not sufficiently assessed.  The officers accept that “the applicant has not provided any specific details on any alternative sites that were considered or reasons why they may have been discounted, for example no details on alternative sites outside of the Green Belt have been provided.”[10]  On this basis, it is technically impossible to assess whether this additional purpose of the greenbelt is contravened.
  4. Economic impact model: the report states that officers are of “the view that there would be some minor economic benefit from proposal.[11] No economic impact modelling has been supplied by the appellant, however. There is insufficient information provided to judge the economic impact of the proposal. No accurate assessment of economic impacts can be made until a model is released by Ineos.
  5. Impact upon birds: The Planning Officer agrees that the absence of records for lapwing and skylark should not be taken to infer their absence from the site. It also cannot be inferred that the imposing of conditions would be able to mitigate any issue here given that we simply do not know if there is an issue to be addressed. Further assessment must be undertaken to clarify this issue.
  6. Impact upon bats: Ineos suggest that no further surveys need to be taken as they have concluded that there is low or negligible likelihood of bat roosts. However, the Bat Conservation Trust advise that “photographs and detailed descriptions should be provided to the client as evidence that an adequate survey has been carried out and the conclusions are reasonable.”[12] Ineos have not provided this to my knowledge. I also share concerns that the bat survey was conducted during months when bats are in hibernation and not active. Ineos, in their response dated 12 September 2017, quote from the Bat Conservation Trust Guidelines (2016, 6.3.7): “PRF surveys can be carried out at any time of the year.[13]  However, the appellant chose to not draw attention to the second half of the sentence from the BCT which stated that “although the likelihood of discovering evidence of bats at different times should be considered.”
  7. Archaeology: The report itself acknowledges that the applicant’s assessment of the archaeological and cultural heritage of the site is defective given that it missed the potential existence of a colliery on the application site in the mid-19th century.[14] Further information is therefore needed to confirm the position on archaeology.

The outstanding nature of these questions means that the evidence base before you is not sufficiently comprehensive in the event that you decide, as I strongly hope you will not, to make a positive decision on this application.  There is, however, already a multitude of reasons, through the clear contravention of key parts of the planning frameworks, to reject this application tomorrow.

As a former Councillor and member of a planning committee dealing with large applications, I know the seriousness that you will be taking your responsibilities with regards to this proposal.  I also know the challenges of weighing up large volumes of evidence and competing interests.

The prospect of exploratory drilling at Bramleymoor Lane has caused, as you can imagine, an extraordinary amount of concern, anxiety and worry for residents living in North East Derbyshire and, particularly, close to the site itself.  Tomorrow’s application, if passed, would be the first step in the wholesale industrialisation of a rural area which has never been seen in any of our lifetimes in Derbyshire.  The sheer volume of representations received on this application demonstrates this concern.

At the planning committee, you are being asked to decide whether this application adheres to the Minerals Local Plan, the North East Derbyshire Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.  In my view, it clearly does not.  Your colleagues in Rotherham came to a similar conclusion just a few days go for a very similar application.  I strongly urge you to reject this application on the planning grounds mentioned in this correspondence and my original objection.

Thank you for reading this additional letter at such short notice.  I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Rowley, Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire”

 

Bramleymoor Lane: New Year Update

I want to update you on the progress of the Bramleymoor Lane proposals and give more information on the ways you can comment, right now, on the application.

In my previous updates, I highlighted how Ineos had sent their initial application to the Planning Inspectorate and had submitted a second application that looked like the first one to Derbyshire County Council. As a result, there are now multiple different processes running on the exploratory drilling application and there are three main opportunities to voice your objections.

If you feel strongly about this application, you should make sure that you comment each time there is a new opportunity.

Here are the three ways you can make your voice heard:

Comment on the FIRST Bramleymoor Lane exploratory drilling application to Derbyshire County Council:

  • Over 5,000 responses have already been received by Derbyshire County Council for the first Bramleymoor Lane application. Most residents will have commented on this already but, if you haven’t, then please start here.
  • Although Derbyshire County Council are no longer making the final decision on this application (as a result of it being referred to a planning inquiry which will be run by the Planning Inspectorate), the County Council still will have a role to play in that planning inquiry and so are going to come to their own conclusion on the application which they will then use as an input into that inquiry process. It is important to encourage Derbyshire County Council to decide that Bramleymoor Lane shouldn’t happen so that they argue against the application at the planning inquiry along with all of the other groups that will already be doing this.
  • As a result, if you haven’t already commented on this initial application, please do so as soon as possible. Equally if there are any additional comments you want to add to your initial submission (because, for example, several months have now passed and new considerations have arisen) then you should also submit these.
  • We are expecting Derbyshire County Council to hold a planning committee in the next few months which will determine their own view on the application in advance of the planning inquiry. The date for this has not yet been set.
  • Quote CM4/0517/10 and write to Derbyshire County Council, Shand House, Dale Road South, Matlock, DE4 3RY or go click here: https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/environment/planning/planning_applications/current_applications/application_details/app-details.asp?AppCode=CM4/0517/10&AppType=2
  • There remains no absolute deadline on when comments can be submitted here – technically anything that is sent in up until the day when the committee meeting is held will be considered – but, for good practice, you should get your comments in as soon as possible.

Comment on the APPEAL and let the national Planning Inspectorate know your views:

  • In November, Ineos appealed their first application for Bramleymoor Lane to the Planning Inspectorate, a body which is based in Bristol acting as an independent reviewer of planning applications. As discussed above, the Inspectorate will now undertake a full planning inquiry, sometime later this year, where they will go through the arguments for and against the application and then come to a decision. This inquiry will be held at a location somewhere in our area.
  • You can find out more about how a planning inquiry works here: https://www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200207/appeals/109/appeal_procedures/4.
  • All comments received by Derbyshire County Council on this application have been handed over to the Planning Inspectorate – so if you have commented already to the Council then the Inspectorate will see these comments
  • However, the Planning Inspectorate are also running a consultation until 2nd February which gives interested residents the opportunity to provide further comments on the application or highlight again their concerns to the Inspectorate – please take this consultation opportunity to demonstrate the continuing strength of feeling on the application.
  • To comment, quote APP/U1050/W/17/3190838 and write to Planning Inspectorate, Room 4A Kite Wing , Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN or go to https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/CaseSearch.aspx.
  • All comments must be received by 2nd February and the Planning Inspectorate has been clear they will send back any comments received after this deadline.

Comment on the NEW Bramleymoor Lane exploratory drilling application:

  • Ineos has re-submitted their original application to Derbyshire County Council with slight changes, which means the public should re-submit their comments, too, if they want to guarantee their views are taken into account.
  • The process of commenting on this second application is the same as commenting on the first one, albeit with a different reference number.
  • To comment, quote CM4/1217/72 and write to Derbyshire County Council, Shand House, Dale Road South, Matlock, DE4 3RY or click here: https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/environment/planning/planning_applications/current_applications/application_details/app-details.asp?AppCode=CM4/1217/72&AppType=2
  • As with any process run by Derbyshire County Council, there are no absolute deadlines as when comments need to be submitted and you can technically make submissions up until the day that the committee hearing is held on this application. For good practice, however, please get your comments in as soon as possible.

If you are objecting, think about how the following would be impacted in your view:

  • Traffic: do you think that there would be a large increase in traffic, especially HGVs? Do you think the roads would be able to cope if there is?
  • Impact on the environment, habitats and wildlife: how will the application for exploratory drilling impact on the local environment, habitats and wildlife? Are you aware of any animals or wildlife that use the local area that you are concerned may be impacted?
  • Geological considerations: the application will be assessed based on the geology of the area. If you have knowledge of the geography or what has gone on before, you should include them.
  • Archaeological considerations: if you are aware of anything of archaeological interest at Bramleymoor Lane or nearby, this may be considered.
  • Character of the area: the Planning Inspectorate and planning authority should have have regard to the character of the area. Do you think that this industrial development in the green belt will change the character of the area?

Remember, planning law does not allow things like your view or your house price to be considered so, whilst they may be really (and understandably) important to you, they will hold no weight in a planning decision-making process. As a result, please avoid including them in your response.

If you want to refer to specific policies in your objection to back up your argument, they can be found here:

1) National Planning Policy Framework (google “National Planning Policy Framework”)
2) Derby & Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan 2000 (google: “Derbyshire Minerals and Waste Planning Policy”)
3) North East Derbyshire Local Plan (google: “North East Derbyshire Local Plan”. NEDDC is currently updating its local plan so the new draft and the old plan are relevant.

Planning law is difficult and complex at the best of times without multiple processes running simultaneously. I realise that the above can be confusing and residents will legitimately ask why they are effectively duplicating or tripling their objections in multiple places – and, therefore, I hope the above explanation is helpful. If you continue to feel strongly about Bramleymoor Lane then the important thing is to see each of these processes as opportunities to re-state those feelings – so please make sure you comment in all three places as soon as possible.

I will update with further information soon. If you have any questions or would like help with your comments, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Bramleymoor Lane: Further Update & Action You Can Take

A short update on the Ineos planning application:

Planning Inspectorate choose inquiry method: The Planning Inspectorate have now confirmed that they will deal with Bramleymoor Lane through a planning inquiry. Whilst I remain of the view that getting the Planning Inspectorate involved was the wrong decision, we are where we are and I wrote to the Inspectorate last week to request an inquiry as the best option available to us in the circumstances. Holding a full planning inquiry means that the Inspectorate will come to North East Derbyshire and hold meetings over a number of days to consider the application and there will be the opportunity local residents and groups to speak. This inquiry is likely to be a number of months away and details will not be clear for a while.

Requests to reverse the referral decision: a number of residents have been in touch to ask whether there is a way in law to reverse the decision to refer to the Planning Inspectorate. I have taken advice on this and there isn’t. The law does not allow us to stop this referral once it has been made so we have to now deal with what is coming. I do think the decision to refer raises a number of wider questions about the spirit of planning laws and they work on large applications such as this one. I will take these broader concerns up in Parliament in the coming weeks and months.

Consultation open: The Planning Inspectorate have now opened a consultation on Bramleymoor Lane which will remain open until 17th January. This is a general consultation which gives all interested parties the opportunity to comment on the application. The comments of everyone who has already made representations on the application via Derbyshire County Council will still be considered as part of the Planning Inspectorate work but this latest consultation is an opportunity to make the points again or to provide any new comments that you may have. You can send comments here: https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/ViewCase.aspx?CaseID=3190838&CoID=0

Bramleymoor Lane: Information on Planning Inspectorate & New Application

On 24th November, Ineos announced that they would be sending their planning application for exploratory drilling at Bramleymoor Lane directly to the Planning Inspectorate for a decision, rather than allowing the Planning Committee at Derbyshire County Council to decide.

Many residents have been in touch in recent days to ask questions about what is happening and, given the complexity of planning law in general, I want to outline what we understand has happened, what it means for the application and where, for those of us who do not want this exploratory drilling to happen, to go next.

What has happened
The application was, until a few days ago, being dealt with by Derbyshire County Council. They received Ineos’s application at the beginning of the Summer and, since then, have been reviewing and assessing to allow a decision to be made by their Planning Committee comprised of elected Councillors from around the county. This process has taken some time because of the huge volume of comments and objections from local residents across North Derbyshire and beyond – over 5,000 at the last count. The expectation was that a decision would be made in the New Year.

There is a provision in planning law which allows applicants, if they believe that the decision isn’t being made quickly enough, to request that another body (the independent Planning Inspectorate) gets involved and makes the decision instead. Councils have a set amount of time, usually 13 weeks to decide on a planning application. That often isn’t enough – simple applications like an extension on a house have 8 weeks so the idea that you would be able to make a decision on something as complicated as this is somewhat aspirational. Usually, in such circumstances, the applicant is pragmatic and recognises that the application will take longer than the statutory period. Ineos did indeed do this initially and agreed to an extension to the timeline. They have not, however, decided to support a further extension despite the obvious complexity and volume of comments and despite the Council stating they would likely make a decision in the next couple of months. As a result, the planning inspectorate will now get involved.

The underlying issue is whether the County Council have taken too long to make a decision so far. Given the complexity and the number of people who have written in, my personal view is that this is a wholly spurious argument to make and I disagree with Ineos’s action here – not least because they have only relatively recently submitted more information to the County Council for consideration. Ineos have previously spoken about the importance that local people have a say on the development of shale gas in their areas and I simply do not understand how that statement can be reconciled with their decision to remove local decision-making from this application, particularly given the likelihood that a decision was likely to come relatively soon.

What will happen to this application now
The Planning Inspectorate has now received Ineos’s request and is in the process of starting work. The Inspectorate has a choice about how to decide these cases (anything from a desktop decision with minimal interaction with those affected to a full scale public inquiry) and so they will need to decide how they want to approach it. I personally hope for the latter and have written to the Planning Inspectorate to request that.

Information on the next steps from the Planning Inspectorate is likely to take some time to come through so we may not hear anything for a few weeks. We are also in the process of clarifying exactly whether comments already made on the application will be handed over to the Planning Inspectorate. We think it will – but we will obtain absolute confirmation.

In the meantime, Derbyshire County Council have confirmed they will still make a decision on the application, even though it has now been taken to the Inspectorate. This is because the Council will have a role to play in the Inspectorate process and so will want to use their decision as an input for the Inspectorate process. Thus, in the New Year, Derbyshire County Council will still hold a Planning Committee for this reason. You can read more about the County Council’s view here: https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/environment/planning/planning_policy/minerals_waste_development_framework/shale_gas/fracking-bramleymoor-lane/default.asp

What Ineos are also likely to do soon
The decision to move this current application to the Planning Inspectorate is not the end of the story. In my correspondence with Ineos, they have also informed me that they will shortly submit a second planning application for exploratory drilling on the Bramleymoor Lane site which will look exactly like the first application that they have just sent to the Inspectorate.

Even though this seems counter-intuitive, this is a technique used by applicants in some applicant. Essentially, Ineos know that sending the first application to the Planning Inspectorate will mean that a decision is still months away. If they submit a second application to Derbyshire County Council that means that the County Council become responsible to decide on that new application within 13 weeks. Given that much of the work on this second application will already have been done on the first, a decision may be forthcoming on this second application before the Inspectorate have decided on the first.

Once this application is submitted, there will be the opportunity to comment as normal. We are trying to obtain clarification on whether residents should submit comments and objections to this second application when it comes or whether their comments on the original application can be considered here.

What this all means
Given all of these developments, what we are likely to see in the next few months is three separate processes underway on Bramleymoor Lane:

1. The original application being processed by the Planning Inspectorate;
2. Derbyshire County Council still completing their activities on the original application, including a decision, so they can send that decision to the Planning Inspectorate, and;
3. Ineos submitting a second, nearly identical, planning application to Derbyshire County Council to see whether it can be determined within 13 weeks this time.

This is all highly confusing, particularly when you add in the various steps in each of these processes. For now, the important point to note is that these processes will be underway simultaneously and so there will be numerous opportunities to highlight opposition and concerns in the coming months.

What you can do, and need to do, now
Several residents have been in touch following the appearance of an appeals notice at the site of the Bramleymoor application. This is a customary legal notice required before submitting an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. The notice asks for representations to be made, but it is aimed at tenants or owners of the land proposed to be developed on – not the general public. We understand there is no real need to respond to this consultation.

The Planning Inspectorate are also likely to open a general consultation shortly. We are clarifying exactly what responses they will like on this matter and will let you know.

For those who haven’t already submitted an objection to the original application, you can still submit objections to Derbyshire County Council on the wider planning application and also a smaller consultation they are running on some new information which has been submitted to them (www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/news_events/news-updates/2017/november/news_items/more_details_on_marsh_lane_planning_application.asp). The Council will consider any objections up to three days before their planning committee meet to discuss the application next year – however, the sooner you put in, the better.

What I’m doing
Over the last few days, I have been speaking with all of the parties to make sure that we are clear about what is a very confusing situation. My position remains that Ineos should not have referred the application to the Planning Inspectorate but, as they have, we now need to ensure we are clear what the next steps and how the local community can continue to make their voice heard.

In addition to supporting residents I have also written to Ineos to express my disappointment at their action and written to the Planning Inspectorate to request a full planning inquiry to maximise public participation in this new process. I will continue to work to oppose this application and am happy to discuss with constituents. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office if you would like to discuss further.

The potential impact of hydraulic fracturing in North East Derbyshire: Westminster Hall Debate 22 November 2017

Marsh Lane Autumn2

Next Wednesday, I’ve been able to secure a 30-minute debate in Westminster Hall on fracking in North East Derbyshire.

When I was elected in June I pledged to oppose the application at Bramleymoor Lane and since then I’ve been busy working with local residents to do just that.  This debate is an opportunity to highlight the very great impact that any exploratory drilling or fracking will have on the Moss Valley and within North Derbyshire as a whole.

Westminster Hall debates are opportunities for local and national issues to be discussed in Parliament and brought to the attention of Government ministers.  These debates, which are in a separate chamber to the House of Commons, provide a platform to highlight issues, concerns and to obtain a Ministerial response.  You can find out more here: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/westminster-hall-debates/.

I hope to be able to highlight some examples of the concerns that local residents have on fracking so please get in touch if you would like your views to be considered for inclusion.  I won’t be able to include everyone’s but I’m keen to hear from as many people as possible!

Bramleymoor Application for Exploratory Drilling: Objection

CM4/0517/10: Planning Application for a Vertical Hydrocarbon Exploratory Core Well, Land Adjacent to Bramleymoor Lane, Near Marsh Lane
Objection to Application
Lee Rowley MP

Summary of objection
I consider the application to be inappropriate for the area proposed and not compliant with key planning policies in the following areas:

  • Substantial increase in traffic on a rural road network;
  • Significant impact on the nearby Moss Valley conservation area;
  • Unacceptable harm to the character and openness of the Green Belt;
  • Dramatic change to the character and rural nature of the landscape;
  • Potential impact upon the environment, biodiversity and nature within Bramley Moor;
  • Unacceptable impact upon, and loss of, hedgerow;
  • Potential archaeological significance of the site;
  • Potential disturbance of in-situ industrial heritage;
  • Unacceptable loss of fertile agricultural land;
  • Uncertainty regarding previous mining extraction on site or nearby;
  • Light egress within a rural area;
  • Potential air pollution, and;
  • Other potential concerns not adequately dealt with by the application.

Further, given the purpose of exploratory drilling is to assess for the potential to undertake hydraulic fracturing, the cumulative impact of any future production activity must also be a consideration in determining this application. This cumulative impact should cover both the full industrial development of the rural Bramleymoor Lane site and also the impact on the wider area in a scenario of full-scale fracking – described by the applicant in other documents as having the potential to create 30 separate Bramleymoor Lane-equivalent sites in a ten kilometre radius.

The need to take account of cumulative impacts
Before discussing the detail of the application, the Council must determine the scope of its assessment and the policies that will apply.

The applicant has stated their view that this proposal should be dealt with in isolation and unrelated to any subsequent use of the Bramleymoor Lane site or the potential cumulative impact on the wider area . This assessment is incorrect for the following reasons:

  • Derbyshire Minerals Policy clearly states that proposals should be considered cumulatively to confirm that no unacceptable environmental impact will follow either on the specific site or across a wider area – an assessment that can only be made, by definition, through consideration of production as well as exploration stages ;
  • The NPPF places a duty on local planning authorities to ensure they take into account the cumulative effect of sites and their surrounding area , and;
  • Case law confirms that potential future planning applications should be given weight in considering a current planning application .

Beyond the planning policies, additional evidence exists that exploration cannot be divorced from production:

  • the Petroleum Exploration licence by which this exploratory drilling is granted explicitly includes the ability to “get” petroleum rather than simply “search and bore” – meaning that one is likely to follow the other, and;
  • other literature issued by the applicant (in this case for tendering purposes) clearly link exploration with production .

Given this context, the application under consideration should be considered not simply for exploratory drilling but also the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing on the Bramleymoor Lane site. In addition, consideration must also be given to the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing within the wider area. Ineos themselves have outlined the possibility of up to 30 separate well sites (equivalent to 30 Bramleymoor Lanes) across a 10 kilometre area in North Derbyshire .

Substantial increase in traffic on a rural road network
By the applicants own admission, the proposal for exploratory drilling would:

  • Increase overall movements in the vicinity by c70 on a daily basis;
  • Increase HGV movements in the vicinity by c60 on a daily basis;
  • Result in each of these HGVs pass by approximately 1.5 miles of residential frontage in Coal Aston;
  • See an overall increase, by the applicant’s calculations, of HGV movements of c17%;
  • Result in, potentially, more than 14,000 traffic movements during the 5-year proposed operational period, and;
  • Mandate some reconfiguration of road layouts in Coal Aston .

The above considerations demonstrate that the proposal contradicts policies MP1, MP8 and MP12 of the Minerals Plan and T2 of the NEDDC Saved Policies. In particular, the application does not propose a site which can accommodate the anticipated traffic easily (T2); it does not demonstrate that it has dealt adequately with road safety or highway capacity (MP4 / 5) and it fails to confirm that it will not create unacceptable traffic problems (MP12) given the significant increase in traffic proposed.

The preferred route for vehicle movements includes roads that are entirely inappropriate for increased HGV movements and which Derbyshire County Council’s own character assessment define as tending to be “narrow and winding” meaning, as a result, a substantial increase of HGV traffic posing an unacceptable level of risk to other road users. The proposed route includes Dyche Lane, a narrow, undulating road with limited visibility at points due to banks on either side of the road. To turn onto Eckington Road, HGV traffic would need to traverse a mini-roundabout. Eckington Road is narrow and to accommodate parked cars can only be navigated in single file at multiple points – something which if acceptable given the types and volumes of vehicles using of the road currently.

The application states that there are “no road safety issues on the links or at the junctions that could be exacerbated by the proposal” . Their own document, however, identifies seven collisions over a three-year period in the roads proposed to be utilised. Given the application is for up to five years, a more accurate assessment would be for the same period; this shows three serious and twenty-three slight collisions during the period, before significant additional HGV traffic is added through this application .

Further, an adjacent site has already been rejected for planning permission in the last ten years on the basis of traffic. Application 08/00038/FL in 2008 (to convert land west of Bramleymoor Lane to be used for a car boot sale), was refused on the basis that the traffic generated would create “visual intrusion” in the green belt, would be in an “unsuitable location” and would contravene policy T2 of the Saved Polices . The car boot would only have been operational fourteen days per annum as opposed to traffic generated for exploratory drilling over 240 days per year.

Separate from the above, the application also relies upon traffic generation calculations which appear irregular in their use of data. The application is based upon an assessment of existing traffic along the key routes of Eckington Road and the B6056 and the likely impact of additional traffic from this application. The assessment suggests increases of 14% and 17% in HGV traffic, both of which are below the 30% trigger for further analysis and more detailed investigation . The applicant is being inconsistent in their definitions; “HGV” is defined by the applicant as greater than 7.5 tonnes for the additional traffic being generated . When analysing existing movements, HGV traffic includes two-axle trucks and buses which would not necessarily be over 7.5 tonnes . As a result, the potential increase in true HGV traffic (defined as > 7.5 tonnes) is being diminished because of the inclusion of smaller vehicles in the baseline.

Further, Department for Transport guidelines have previously classified traffic impacts on an area as being “high” if the increased traffic passes by over 200 houses and “moderate” if the number is between 100 and 200. In this instance, there are over 110 houses on Eckington Road, Coal Aston, another c100 on the roads next to the Dyche Lane roundabout (Wilson Road, Thorpe Avenue etc.) and a further dozen or so farms between Coal Aston and the site. On that basis, this application should be viewed as having a “high” impact and further traffic assessments would be necessary prior to any decision.

Given the lack of clarity regarding these traffic assessments and the apparent inconsistencies in the treatment of the denominator used for movement analysis, this application should also be rejected on the basis of incomplete information.

Finally, if the application is considered from a cumulative perspective, then the proposed development should also be deemed unacceptable and contravene policy MP4 of the Derby and Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan . Consideration must also be given to further traffic and road safety implications which may arise from possible future hydraulic fracturing in the area, as suggested by the applicant. An application to explore for shale gas in Lancashire in 2014 saw predictions of up to 274 HGV movements a day . Should Ineos’s predictions of future hydraulic fracturing come to fruition, then the HGV traffic generated could result in similar numbers of HGV movements per drill-site and which then would need to be multiplied by up to thirty to account for multiple sites in the immediate area, as per the applicant’s own documentation on full fracking. Such a scenario could result in up to 8,000 traffic movements a day and would clearly be wholly inappropriate for a road network of this type.

Significant impact on the nearby Moss Valley conservation area
The proposed site is within approximately one hundred metres of the Moss Valley conservation area . Planning policy is clear that the impact of an application should be considered not just when that application is specifically within the conservation area but also when it is adjacent – as in this case . Similarly, policy states that permission can be granted only if the application takes account of that conservation area. This application fails to take account of its proximity to the Moss Valley conservation area given its scale, form, siting and design.

The proposed site for exploratory drilling is at the top of a moor which is prominently visible across the Moss Valley. Not only would a 60m drilling rig contradict the Saved Policies of NEDDC Local Plan by blighting this area for a number of months, but the five-year accumulation of bulky items on the site would cause a long-term impact on this unique landscape. During Stage 3 of the proposed development (a stage which could last up to five years), the site could hold up to seventeen different bulky and highly visible sets of equipment which it would simply not be possible to obscure based on the existing natural features of the site:

  • A perimeter 2.0m high fence;
  • An additional 4.8m high combination of bunding and further fencing;
  • 2 – 3 cabins of up to 3.0m height;
  • Acoustic screening of up to 5.0m height;
  • Up to 4 security cameras of up to 5.5m height;
  • A lighting rig of up to 9.0m high;
  • A 2.9m high power generator;
  • 2 water tanks of up to 3.0m height;
  • A 10m high emergency vent;
  • A 4.5m high Kooney pressure control, and;
  • A 4.0m high blow out preventor and skid and choke manifold .

This bulk would be clearly visible from multiple locations across the Moss Valley conservation area and would be easily visible even from further distances such as High Lane at the top of Ridgeway.

The proposal would also be contrary to Policy MP4 of the Derby and Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan, which states that applications should be refused if the proposal will “cause significant disturbance to other sites and features of heritage importance including conservation areas”.

In addition, considering cumulative future impact, the potential for up to thirty sites nearby would have a significant impact on Conservation Areas and should be rejected on this basis.

Unacceptable harm to the character and openness of the Green Belt
The application is within an area of Green Belt and thus, according to planning policy, applications should only be approved in “very special circumstances” and when they do not conflict with the original purpose of the Green Belt designation . Further, the same policy states that the Green Belt should not be injured and that applications must not be conspicuous. The NPPF and the NEDDC Emerging Local Plan are equally as stringent towards applications within Green Belt and their potential to impact the openness and character of such areas . This application contravenes all of these policies.

The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that the purpose of Green Belt policies are, amongst others, to “assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment” . By any definition this application, through the imposition of over a dozen bulky items, through the removal of agricultural land, through the cutting down of mature hedgerow, through the concreting over of 1.87 hectares of green belt land and for all of other the reasons outlined in this application, clearly contravenes this purpose.

Secondly, the application also severely impacts on the “openness” of the Green Belt in North East Derbyshire. “Openness” has been defined in case law as the “state of being free from built development, the absence of Buildings” . For the same reasons as outlined above, this application would contravene these Green Belt principles.

Given that the application clearly contravenes both the principle and spirit of Green Belt designation, the question then turns to whether this particular application meets the “very special circumstances” that would allow it to proceed. There is no evidence in the applicant’s documentation that such circumstances exist. The harm that would result to the Green Belt would be clearly outweighed by any benefit and, given that the PEDL licence from which this application emanate covers both Green Belt and non-Green Belt locations, it cannot be argued that there would not be other locations which could be considered that would avoid the transgression of the Green Belt principle (although, of course, all locations within the North Derbyshire area are likely to have significant issues with regards to changing the character of the local landscape in the event of a fracking application).

It is also important to note that a similar planning application in 2014 for exploratory drilling in Calow was refused by the Planning Committee at Derbyshire County Council (CM4/0114/156). The reasons for the refusal of the Calow application and the policies contravened must also be applied to the proposed development adjacent to Bramleymoor Lane as follows:

  • the Calow development was unacceptable due to its location in the countryside, and the cumulative impacts on the local community, including the associated traffic, which outweighed the benefits of the development, contravening policies MP1 and MP3 of the Derby and Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan, and;
  • the Calow development was within an area designated as a Derbyshire Landscape Character type and would be impacted should the application be approved, contravening policy GS6 of the NEDDC Saved Policies

The same points apply to this application.

Dramatic change to the character and rural nature of the landscape
The application, if successful, would result in a significant change to the Bramley Moor site from a rural and agricultural landscape to one which has a significant amount of industrial activity and which is clearly visible from elsewhere in the District.

Bramley Moor sits within the Wooded Hills and Valleys landscape area where “the landscape has remained essentially rural and intact” . According to NEDDC’s own assessment of the area, the north of the district is “a landscape of villages, hamlets and scattered farmsteads” . The site itself has had the same characteristics for centuries as evidenced from nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps as well as the applicants own submissions .

Significant change to the use of this area for industrial and mineral extraction would contravene a number of policies. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that local planning authorities should “retain and enhance landscapes” . Policy SDC3 of the emerging NEDDC Local Plan states: “Development proposals should be informed by, and be sympathetic to, the distinctive landscape areas identified in the Derbyshire Landscape Character Assessment ”. Policy GS6 of the Saved Policies states that development will only be permitted when it is “in keeping with the character of the countryside” and when it does not “represent a prominent intrusion” into the countryside . The application fails to adhere to all of the aforementioned policies and so should be rejected.

Potential impact upon environment, biodiversity and nature within Bramley Moor
The applicant states that the proposed development will have minimal ecological impact in their Environmental Report and that the habitats involved should be considered of “low to moderate” ecological value . There is, however, reason to be believe that the habitat assessment is not comprehensive enough to support absolute confirmation.

There are erroneous elements to the habitat survey within the Environmental Report, which need to be addressed:

  • The size of the field survey area is not specified, and;
  • Bat roosts are located in the survey area but locations are not provided.

Given there is no information about the proximity of the documented bat roosts to the proposed site, no accurate judgement can be made about the impact of the proposal on the local bat population.

The habitat survey also is not comprehensive enough in its investigation into possible bat activity in the area for the following reasons:

  • The survey was undertaken in January and February, when bats are in their hibernation; phase and activity outside of roosts is rare;
  • The survey does not consider potential for bat roosting with enough weight, and;
  • The survey does not include an assessment for potential “commuting” and “foraging” areas for bats.

Policy is very clear with regards to protecting species. The Emerging NEDDC Local Plan states: “Development proposals will not be permitted where they would result in significant harm to biodiversity or geodiversity, including protected species and sites of international, national and local significance, ancient woodland, and species and habitats of importance identified in the United Kingdom and Derbyshire Biodiversity Action Plan” . It is not clear whether the proposed development would result in significant harm to protected species because the results of the habitat survey are not comprehensive enough to establish a) whether there is bat activity within the proposed development site, and b) whether there is an significant impact on local bat populations.

If the application is considered from a cumulative perspective, then the proposed development should be deemed unacceptable and contravene policy MP4 of the Derby and Derbyshire Minerals Local plan . There is evidence of bats within the surrounding area of the proposed site, and any further possible development, including hydraulic fracturing, would have an unacceptable impact on the local ecology.

Unacceptable impact upon, and loss of, hedgerow
Hedgerow is accepted as a key characteristic of the landscape in the North Derbyshire area . The applicant has confirmed that this proposal will result in the loss of existing, mature hedgerow which they admit could be classified as “important ”. The hedgerow in question is likely to have been in situ since the Enclosure Act of 1795 and, in all probability, is significantly older as a boundary associated with the road across Bramley Moor. Applying academic models to assess the age of the hedgerow closest the B6056 suggests that elements could be many hundreds of years old and, therefore, should be treated as ancient until comprehensively disproven.

All of the local planning policies which will be used to determine this application confirm the importance of hedgerow preservation in planning policy . In particular, policy NE7 of the Saved Policies states unambiguously that “planning permission will not be granted for development that would have a direct or indirect detrimental effect on … important hedgerows”. The removal of at least 18 metres of existing, mature and important hedgerow would clearly contravene this policy.

In addition, the application also suffers from the following shortcomings with regard to the potential loss of hedgerow:

  • Inability to quantify the amount of hedgerow that will be directly lost both near the road and within the site (diagrams suggest at least 18m will be removed to create an access point to the B6056);
  • Inability to guarantee that the hedgerow immediately surrounding the site will be retained (instead that the hedgerow will be retained “where possible” ), and;
  • A suggestion that a further c400 metres of existing, mature and potentially important hedgerow will be reduced in size to a maximum of 1 metre high to support the visibility splay needed for site access.

The transformational nature of this application on the hedgerow in or near the site is a clear and explicit reason for rejection based on the unacceptable impact on the character and amenity of the area and a failure to protect valuable and mature ecological assets.

If the removal of at least 18 metres of hedgerow occurs from this application, then consideration needs to be given to the possibility of further loss to hedgerows should hydraulic fracturing applications follow in the wider area. Ineos predict a potential of 30 similar drills sites in a ten kilometre radius of Bramleymoor Lane. The cumulative impact of this could result in hundreds of metres of hedgerows and habitats lost.

Potential archaeological significance of the site
North Derbyshire is a potential site of archaeological significance with known Roman settlements in Chesterfield and evidence of iron smelting in Eckington itself. Roman coins have been found within five miles of the site and, as a result, it must be a possibility that the site will have material of archaeological significance within it which should be treated with respect and care.

Given that the proposal for exploratory drilling involves the wholesale removal of the topsoil in the relevant area, it inevitably follows that any items of historical importance within it will be disturbed or potentially damaged during the transfer. In addition, the movement of the topsoil will also immediately destroy any information which could be gleaned from the distribution of any finds in the soil.

All of the relevant planning policy documents highlight the importance of treating sites of potential archaeological significance with caution. In particular, multiple policies stress the importance of the preservation of potential archaeological finds “in situ” which would be rendered instantly impossible at the point topsoil was moved .

In addition:

  • The gradiometer and GPR survey conducted on the proposed site identified large traces of ferrous disturbance, particularly along the boundaries and hedgerows , suggesting presence of iron which may have a link with the historical smelting in Eckington, and;
  • The application does not contain an archaeological evaluation and impact assessment which, according to Minerals Policy MP7, is required prior to the determination of an application in an area of potential archaeological importance .

Potential disturbance of in-situ industrial heritage
Evidence of a historic tramway can be found close to the proposed development site , part of an old track which transported minerals from the Bramley Moor Colliery to the Chesterfield Canal.

The Environmental Report provided by the applicant goes as far as suggesting that the tramway is part of the historical importance of the area . Despite this, the tramway has been disregarded in the Environmental Report as “negligible heritage value” . The Environmental Report is therefore inconsistent and should not be used as an arbiter of the potential heritage value of the site.

Nearby in Eckington, traces of the same tram network have been preserved as areas of archaeological importance . If the same tramway is preserved just miles down the road, it would be counter-intuitive to permit a known tramway site of potential historical interest to be destroyed through the wholesale transfer of soils to accommodate use in exploratory drilling.

Such inconsistencies in preserving archaeologically important areas directly contradicts policy set out in the Derby and Derbyshire Mineral Local Plan MP1 , as well as NEDDC Saved Policies and NEDDC Emerging Local Plan SDC7, as already noted. NEDDC’s own “The Constrained North” document of 2012 explicitly promotes the “opportunity” of disused and dismantled tramways to highlight the area’s industrial past and encourage use in leisure and recreation activities .

Unacceptable loss of fertile agricultural land
The policy framework is clear that development will only be permitted where, according to the Saved Policies, it “minimises the loss of agricultural land, particularly that of the best and most versatile quality” . Similar requirements are also noted in the Emerging Local Plan and the Minerals Policy .

The immediate area nearby may become more difficult to farm as a result of this application. The applicant accepts that the location comprises “intensively farmed arable land” and it is site which has been used for that purpose for many centuries – with early twentieth century records noting its use for arable and pasture, and an 1840 Ordnance Survey map denoting the same .

The applicant accepts that the land is of grade 3 agricultural quality but does not choose to assess whether it is sub-grade 3a or 3b. Given that Minerals Policy MP4 is clear that the loss of grade 3a land should be avoided, this application does not provide sufficient detail to enable determination. It should be refused on this basis.

Further, the general quality of agricultural land within the North East Derbyshire district area is around two-thirds grade 4 . Given this wider context, the proposal to remove nearly 2 acres of grade 3 agricultural land (irrespective of whether the land is eventually adjudged to be grade 3a or 3b), clearly contravenes the relevant planning policies on loss of land of valuable agricultural context.

Uncertainty regarding previous mining extraction on site or nearby
The application has been made in an area of known historical mineral extraction with numerous coal mining shafts and boreholes close to the proposed site . Both the applicant themselves and the Coal Authority accepts the potential for mining in the site boundary from the early medieval period through to the modern era .

Government Planning Policy Guidance notes the importance of considering previous mining areas and the “potential effects of subsidence, including the potential hazard of old mine workings” . The Emerging Local Plan also notes the importance of safety when proposing developments in areas with mining history .

Given the workings in or close by Bramleymoor Lane, this site should not be considered appropriate for large-scale industrial activity (comprising either exploratory drilling or full fracking) for the following reasons:

  • The area was worked prior to the introduction of formal recording by government authorities – meaning a substantial number of pits, shafts and mines may be unrecorded;
  • The applicant’s own survey notes evidence of coal extraction in the form of bell pits in very close proximity to the site with the potential for encroachment into the site itself ;
  • Bramley Moor Colliery is located less than 200m from the boundary;
  • The applicant’s survey notes five anomalies in the survey area which demonstrated pit-like features, features associated with bell pits or potential back-filling (which can compromise the stability of underground and nearby soil), and;
  • The applicant’s own document is silent on the potential for underground workings, nor is it assessed by the reports that were commissioned ;
  • The applicant does not satisfactorily assess a number of nearby points of interest; one mine entry, located within metres of the site has not been assessed through the gradiometer and GPR survey commissioned by the applicant , and a borehole adjacent to the proposed site is noted but no analysis has been undertaken either, and;
  • The application contradicts itself on the presence of boreholes on the site; the Environmental Report states in one part that there are none in the “immediate vicinity” whilst a later paragraph in the same document states the converse. The applicant must remedy this contradiction, and take action as appropriate, before the mining risk can be judged to have been satisfactorily dealt with .

Looking more widely at the potential impact of cumulative workings both at Bramleymoor Lane and within the North Derbyshire area, it is likely that any full hydraulic fracturing proposal would suffer from the same issues regarding residual risk left from historical mining extraction. The applicant does not provide sufficient detail or information on how this risk would be mitigated in the event of such large-scale activities and, therefore, policy SS1 is contravened again.

Light egress within a rural area
The applicant accepts that, if approved, the site would require “permanent lighting”, that there will be some light pollution emitted from the site and that there will be some nearby residents not shielded from it .

As it stands today, lighting in the area is limited with moderately dark skies , in line with the rural character of the area. The applicant recognises that the numerous phases of the development would likely results in loss of tranquillity with “fluorescent lighting visible beyond the localised site area” including local residential properties on Lightwood Lane and Ridge Road. The change in local character would be deemed high-medium .

Based on these assessments, the application already contravenes policy BE2 of the NEDDC Saved Policies which states that permission for external lighting will only be granted where they are “sensitively designed, sited and installed to ensure that they do not have an adverse effect on the surrounding area .” The Emerging Local Plan also talks about how development should be prevented if “unacceptable levels” of light pollution is created and is particularly focused on impacts on rural areas such as this site .

As well as being rejected on the absolute basis of light pollution in a rural area, the application should also be dismissed on the basis that the documentation provided does not sufficiently quantify the impact of that accepted pollution. The applicant has omitted specific detail of how far light from their proposal will travel at night and the potential repercussions of this. This renders the lighting assessment invalid as, beyond a broad recognition that light pollution will be emitted (something which is sufficient to contravene BE2 on its own), no accurate judgement can made regarding the specific impact of the proposed lighting at a more granular level.

The lack of sufficient information is particularly concerning for bat populations. As already discussed, bat activity has been recorded in the area surrounding the proposed site. The applicant has failed to implement mitigation factors to reduce impact on local bat species and accepts, with regard to night lighting: “The size/scale of the effect is considered to be high within the wider landscape setting”

Despite this, the applicant has excluded specific location details of the nearby bats or a comprehensive assessment on the impact of the night lighting. Therefore, no conclusion can be made regarding the impact of the night life on the local bat population.

Further, looking at the application on a more cumulative basis, any extension of hydraulic fracturing into multiple sites across the area would naturally have a large impact on the landscape character of the area as a whole. Given that one site alone is, by the applicants own calculus, a “high” impact on the rural area nearby, a further thirty sites nearby would mean the creation of significant light pollution across North East Derbyshire.

Potential air pollution
By their own admission, the applicant’s proposal will negatively impact the quality of air in the area, with additional vehicle and equipment exhaust fumes, dust and the potential for the release of methane at various stages during the exploratory drilling phase .

The NEDDC Emerging Local Plan states clearly that proposals should avoid “unacceptable” levels of air quality whilst the Derbyshire Minerals Policy indicates that regard must be had for the effect on local communities and neighbouring land uses by reasons of “dust” . Whilst the application offers some forms of mitigation to minimise the effect on the local environment, these mitigants do not adequately avoid a large increase in air pollution which otherwise would not occur if this application was rejected. It should be refused on this basis alone.

The acknowledgement of the potential release of methane is particularly concerning. Methane gas, which is toxic to humans, could be released as a result of the drilling process .

Further, the documents provided by the applicant do not sufficiently quantify potential air pollution levels beyond a recognition that there would be some in a rural area:

  • A recognition that localised emissions could include NOx, SOx, PM10 and 2.5, CO and VOCs – but no assessment has been made on the potential impact on human health and air quality from these substances, and;
  • No information is present within the document regarding the potential quantity of gas that could be released.

The potential release of an unknown quantity of toxic gases should be treated as an inappropriate effect on the local community.

In addition, consideration should also be given to the cumulative impact on air quality should further applications for drilling sites be approved in the area, as the applicant have suggested. The cumulative impact of vehicle emissions, dust and unexpected release of harmful gases would have a significant impact on a relative small area and would be thoroughly inappropriate for the rural nature of North East Derbyshire.

Other potential considerations not adequately dealt with by the application
Two further potential issues exist which the application does not adequately deal with:

  • Local residents have highlighted the existence of an underground oil pipeline on or close by the site which has not been dealt with in the application. Conveyancing records from the 1960s confirm the existence of this pipeline to the east of Marsh Lane moving west. Development without assessing “public safety risks” such as historic pipelines in the area would contravene NEDDC Emerging Local Plan SS1 , and;
  • The North Derbyshire area is one which has been hit by low-level earthquakes in the past . The cumulative impact of the inconsistent and unreliable historic mining records on the proposed development site, combined with the nearby history of earthquake activity, suggest that there is potential for ground instability and subsidence on the site. This contravenes policy MP8 of the Derby and Derbyshire Minerals Local Plan, which sets out the need to mitigate impacts that could cause subsidence.

Last week’s vote on public sector pay

On Saturday at my first surgery in Danesmoor, I met with a local firefighter who came to discuss last week’s vote on public sector pay. He told me he was disappointed that the Conservatives had not voted to remove the cap and we had a long discussion on the reasons for that vote and the pressures on public sector workers today. Others have also separately contacted me on this issue and I wanted to set out what happened last week in detail given the level of interest in this vote.

There are three primary reasons for my vote – (1) because of what the Queen’s Speech means for the government as a whole, (2) because a review of public sector pay is due to report in a few months’ time and (3) because of my disappointment that the Labour Party played games on this important issue.

The importance of the Queen’s Speech
I arrived in Parliament three weeks ago and I’m certainly no expert in parliamentary procedure (although I am learning fast!) but it was our view that the Queen’s Speech was not the right place to debate this important issue.

For this to make sense, I first need to set out the critical nature of the Queen’s Speech in parliamentary terms. At the beginning of every parliamentary session, the government, through this Speech, puts forward what it wants to do over the coming months – a laundry list, if you like, of proposed laws that it will bring forward to make the country better. In this Queen’s Speech, we have outlined proposals to get on with Brexit, on domestic abuse, on mental health and addressing the challenges of housing amongst other things – all hugely important laws which will make a substantial difference to the future direction of our country.

Given that the Queen’s Speech tells the country which laws will be debated in the future it is seen, in parliamentary language, as a “confidence” vote – i.e. that the government needs Parliament to vote in agreement with the Speech to prove that it will be able to get its legislative programme through in the coming months. If MPs don’t give the thumbs up to the Queen’s Speech, then effectively the government has just proven it can’t govern. And what comes after that? Another general election. Now, some of your reading this might be very keen on a new election but I must say I haven’t found many people yet who want one in North East Derbyshire! Instead, most people want us to get on with solving the problems that our country faces.

It was therefore of the utmost importance last week that the Queen’s Speech passed. The Labour Party obviously, as is their right, would quite like the government to fail and for a new election to be called and so they therefore proposed a series of amendments, including one on public sector pay. On surface, this sounds very reasonable and which many people, all other things equal, could support. Yet what these amendments were in fact designed to do, underneath, was something completely different to the words in them. These amendments were an attempt to force another general election. I do not think that the country wants another election and that is therefore why I voted against the amendments.

A public sector pay review is underway
The second reason I voted against the amendment was a matter of timing. Separately to all this political ding-dong there is already a process underway at the moment to review public sector pay through a series of independent experts and bodies. This happens every year and these reviews usually report in the Summer and then the government decides whether to accept or reject the proposals. Usually, as part of the budget process, the government announces how public sector pay will change. This allows independent advice to be taken on public sector pay – people who have properly looked into it and can therefore give an expert opinion on what needs to be done, factoring in everyone’s views.

Rather than voting for a hastily put down amendment in the middle of these independent reviews, I believe we should let the reviews conclude before the government then decides what action to take on public sector pay, and the cap, in a few months’ time. Otherwise, we should ask ourselves: what is the point of the independent panels who are reviewing pay in the first place? We should instead let them make pay recommendations and then a decision can be come to on this.

The Labour Party is playing games on the issue
Thirdly, I voted against the amendment because it was very clear that a game was being played by the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP for almost as long as I have been alive – so he knows how the place works and the tricks of parliamentary procedure to try to embarrass his opponents and make political capital out of issues.

Labour knew that the Queen’s Speech needed to be passed un-amended in order to avoid a confidence issue which could have resulted in another general election.

They knew that there was already a review on public sector pay already underway.

They knew that they if they worded an amendment in such a way like this one that they grab lots of headlines and do the usual “all-Tories-are-terrible” mantra which they think wins them votes.

They knew all of this and yet they still did it.

Of course, politics is politics and Labour are perfectly entitled to engage in this kind of game playing if they want (and, as an aside, no party is wholly perfect on this). But, at the same time, it’s important that we call out the vote on Wednesday for what it was – an attempt to grab headlines, not a serious attempt to legislate. It is for voters to decide whether this kind of playing to the gallery is really a programme for good government or not. I do not think it is.

My own view on public sector pay
So, after all that technical and dry explanation, what are my actual views on public sector pay?

I understand the real difficulties that the cap is causing for those who have been affected by it in the last few years. I understand the challenges of rising prices and wages not going up by as much as would be liked. The truth is that all Conservatives, including myself, would like to increase the pay of those working hard in our public services day after day. Some of my new Conservative colleagues used to be teachers, nurses and doctors too. One of my colleagues who has just joined Parliament with me was a firefighter for twenty-five years. We therefore all know how important the issue of this cap is.

The challenge we have as a party of government is that we have to weigh up the desire to increase public sector pay with the health of the nation’s finances and the need to do all we can to keep taxes as low as possible. I know lots of people are probably sick of hearing about the deficit but that was the reason why the cap was in place and although lots of progress has been made on reducing it there is still a lot of work to be done to get rid of it altogether (and that’s before we even start on trying to reduce the debt we have built up as a nation).

This year, our country is expected to over-spend (again) by around £50 billion pounds. In one way that’s much better than in 2010 when it was more than triple that amount – but it is still a huge amount that we are adding on to the nation’s credit card every year which our children and grandchildren will have to pay off. One of the reasons I went into politics – and one of the things you are going to hear me banging on about for as long as I am North East Derbyshire’s MP – is to ensure that we were not the first generation to hand our country over in a worse state than we found it. That means making difficult decisions on the public finances, for the health of our country. If we do not take these steps now, then whoever the MP for North East Derbyshire is in 40 or 50 years time won’t be talking about public sector pay caps, they’ll be talking about the hospitals that can’t be built or the teachers that can’t be employed or the social care that can’t be provided because the country is spending an ever-increasing proportion of the taxes it raises on servicing debts which we incurred a generation before and which our kids are left to pay for.

So, ultimately the question is one of balance. I do think we should review public sector pay this year, particularly as inflation starts to creep up. I think it will be a finely-balanced decision in the end but it’s important we listen to the real concerns of people on this.

For those of you who have read down this far, I’m sure some of you will still be unconvinced by my position. Some of you will probably never believe what a Conservative MP says. Others will bring up things we are doing with other parts of the budget or other spending commitments made as evidence that money can always be found. Ultimately, it is all a balance and there are no easy answers. Yet, one thing I can say is this: whatever the answer is on public sector pay, it isn’t going to be found in a political stunt like the one we saw on Wednesday. Instead, it’s going to be part of a longer, more deliberative and considered process like the one we have committed to and which we can discuss more in the coming weeks and months.

Ultimately, I know this is a long and complicated explanation and one that can’t be easily boiled down into a tweet or a pithy soundbite. Sometimes that is what government is about and is something which I will try to explain to constituents who raise this with me in the coming weeks and months. I’m very grateful to the firefighter for coming to see me and I hope this (long) explanation goes some way to understand what happened on Wednesday.

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog.  This is the place where I’ll be writing in more detail about issues of importance to both North East Derbyshire and the country as a whole, particularly those that need a longer discussion and more thinking than can fit elsewhere.  Please feel free to email me at anytime to discuss any of the posts at lee.rowley.mp@parliament.uk.