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.