Planners back Cuadrilla’s request for more time at Preston New Road

Lancashire County Council has recommended extending fracking company Cuadrilla’s deadline to restore its Preston New Road site to farmland. Kevin Gopal reports

Lancashire County Council will next week consider extending Cuadrilla’s deadline to restore its Preston New Road fracking site – a move recommended by its planning department despite the objections of local authorities, an MP and 84 others.

In a new report, Jonathan Haine, the council’s head of development control, writes that Cuadrilla should be given until June 2025 for final restoration of the 200m by 120m site, an extension of more than two years on its existing deadline.

Cuadrilla was forced to stop test drilling for shale gas at the site after a series of seismic events culminated in a 2.9ML earthquake in Blackpool in August 2019. Later that year, the government imposed a moratorium on fracking in England.

Under the terms of its planning permission given in October 2016, Cuadrilla had 75 months from the start of drilling to complete its operations and fully restore the site, which would have meant a deadline of April 2023.

In March 2022 Cuadrilla told the council it would start work to decommission both wells but in December 2022, it applied for an extension. During that period the moratorium on fracking had been lifted by Liz Truss’s short-lived government only to be reimposed a few weeks later when Rishi Sunak became prime minister.

In its application, Caudrilla says the delay was in part caused by an order to suspend the work from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) – formerly the Oil and Gas Authority – issued in the context of the global energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Recommending Cuadrilla’s application, Haine writes that it is “unfortunate” that work has not commenced until now but that there is “no evidence that the site cannot be restored to an adequate standard”.

Among the objectors, Fylde Borough Council says the application proposes an “excessive period of time for this intrusion on the countryside to continue without appropriate justification”.

Why does anyone give them credibility? The community has been insulted.

County councillor John Singleton objected on behalf of Fylde West residents most affected by tremors near the Preston New Road site and said the NSTA suspension order had no bearing on Cuadrilla’s breach of permission.

“The applicant knew the restoration timescales and should have complied with them and therefore the application should be refused,” he said.

Friends of the Earth says a delay in restoration would conflict with the Fylde Local Plan and Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan, which states that development should conserve and protect landscape character.

Objectors also question Cuadrilla’s motives for its application. Singleton said the company may be waiting for another turnaround in the government’s moratorium on fracking.

MP for Fylde Mark Menzies has asked the county council what assurances it has been given that Cuadrilla can afford to pay for restoration, and what guarantees it has had that costs will not fall on the public purse if the company stops trading. Similar questions have also been raised by the Environment Agency and several local residents.

Haine’s report says: “This issue has been raised with the operator who states that the company continues to have financial support provided by the parent company AJ Lucas and also the joint venture partner company Spirit Energy who are a subsidiary of Centrica (a large British multi-national energy and services company)… It is therefore considered that there is no basis for seeking a restoration bond or other form of guarantee to cover abandonment and restoration costs.”

AJ Lucas’s share price has dropped by 76 per cent over the last year, reaching a 52-week low yesterday (Thursday).

Tina Rothery of Nanas Against Fracking told Blackpool Social Club any further delay in the site’s restoration would be “unacceptable”.

Cuadrilla’s claims that there would be no significant seismic events during test drilling had proved not to be the case.

“Why does anyone give them credibility?” asked Rothery. “The community has been insulted.

“Why are the planners so keen to grant an extension? We would like to see the correspondence between Cuadrilla and the council.

“Who is monitoring the site? What is happening underground?”

Lancashire County Council’s development planning committee will consider Cuadrilla’s application at 10.30am on 7th June. Nanas Against Fracking is calling on community members to provide a presence outside the meeting at Lancashire County Council offices. View the Facebook event here.

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