On Monday 4th January 2016, the Nottinghamshire County Council Environment & Sustainability Committee agreed the Submisson Draft of the Minerals Plan which should now be approved by the full County Council on 14 January as a ‘Submission Draft’. This will then get 6 weeks further public consultation before being submitted to the government for formal Examination in Public by an Inspector later this year.
During the next 6 weeks consultation (probably starting in February) objections will have to relate to the ‘soundness’ of the plan. These objections will be important for the Inspector to decide what are the main issues to be considered at Examination and who will be invited to take part in round table discussions.
‘Soundness’ includes whether the Plan addresses all of the issues required of a Minerals Plan (e.g. whether it has provided a sufficient supply of minerals such as sand and gravel, limestone, etc to meet projected demand) and whether it is internally consistent (e.g. whether the policy on hydrocarbons is consistent with the policy on climate change which is supposed to promote a transition to a ‘low carbon’ economy).
The main issue for the Minerals Plan over the past few years has been the need to identify additional sources of sand and gravel. The main discussion on 4 January was opposition by the Conservatives to new quarries proposed at Shelford, Averham and Coddington. Previously, policy on hydrocarbons (gas and oil) has not received very much political attention. On 4 January, as a result of lobbying by Frack Free Notts and Nottingham Friends of the Earth, two councillors did raise our concerns about unconventional hydrocarbons.
A minor amendment was agreed to clarify the Council’s position which is that no separate planning policy is required to control fracking. In other words, we failed to persuade the Committee that their policy is inadequate.
Councillor Steve Calvert (Lab) was the only member of the committee who really seemed to understand what is at stake. His points included:
- There is a problem with government energy policy, particularly since May 2015. It is promoting high carbon fossil fuel energy while cutting support to renewable energy and energy efficiency – making fracking easier and wind turbines more difficult. At the same time it still claims to promote a low carbon economy.
- In the Minerals Plan there is a lack of consistency between the strategic objectives (particularly SP1 (Sustainable Development) and SP4 (Climate Change) which say policies should support the transition to a low carbon economy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and Policy MP12 (Hydrocarbons).
- Cannot agree that there is no reason to separate shale gas from other hydrocarbons because:
– the scale is significantly different
– the technology is untried – and could have unexpected and unacceptable impacts
– some countries have ruled against it
- The Minerals Plan should not support large scale hydrocarbon development. And it shouldn’t be seen as an open door to shale gas.
Councillor Stan Heptinstall (LibDem) said that people’s concerns about fracking haven’t been answered. He wanted a separate document setting out the Council’s position on fracking – in particular a need to consider cumulative impact including restoration so there is no unacceptable after effect. The Minerals Plan underplays the potential problems of fracking – this needs to be looked at in more detail.
Councillor Bruce Laughton (Con) assured us that oilfields have been operating in Notts since before the second world war, with a museum at Eakring (in the ward he represents) where people can find out the facts. This shows that he does not understand what we mean when we talk about fracking – high volume, high pressure, chemicals, sand & water, which has only been done once in Blackpool, which caused 2 earthquakes and a 1 year ban on fracking.
Planning Officer Sally Gill argued that Policy MP12 is about separating the process into three stages (exploration, appraisal, extraction) and does not focus on particular techniques. It does require there should be no unacceptable impacts. (And proposals will be tested against the other policies on amenity, water, climate change, etc.)