Planning Fraud in Notts – the reason for our protest on Wednesday 28th March 2018

The reason we are protesting is that Notts County Council has abandoned its responsibilities to the public in favour of helping the fracking gas industry. Promises to keep people and the environment safe through the planning regime are being revealed as a fraud at Misson Springs and Tinker Lane (Blyth) in North Nottinghamshire.

The government admitted from the start that fracking would mean serious problems for communities, serious risks for our health and potential damage to the environment in which we all live. But the government told us that Britain had gold standard planning and regulation and that planning conditions and regulation would make fracking safe.

This assumed that the planning requirements would actually be enforced. Government policy documents published by the Conserative-Lib Dem coalition said “It is assumed that current controls are enforced by regulators and followed by operators” .

4 years later the actions of Notts County Council Planning Department show us how empty the promises were. It was a con and Notts County planners have been willing perpetrators of the fraud. Planning permission was given to Igas for an exploratory well at Misson Springs on the Notts/ South Yorks border. However traffic management conditions were made to keep heavy vehicles out of the village where they are more than a annoyance – they are a danger to pedestrians and children in the narrow streets. Yet the traffic plan has not been enforced and is now being repeatedly violated. Other conditions were put on IGas to protect a nearby ecologically sensitive area at Misson Springs, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. These conditions have now been ignored because IGas were behind schedule. Monitoring arrangements for noise which would disturb breeding owls and other species are effectively being left to the operator and it is impossible independent observers to check their measurements.

The only real enforcement that is going on is by the police on behalf of IGas – behaving aggressively to protestors and protectors who are mostly middle aged and pensioners. At the same time the police turn a blind eye to the traffic violations – for example vehicles with hidden number plates.

This experience is not peculiar to Nottinghamshire. In Lancashire and Yorkshire and in Balcombe its been very similar. The promises have been hollow and there have been multiple planning and regulatory breaches by the fracking companies. A pattern is emerging. This industry gets away with its violations because it has friends in high places and the government does not want to see it fail.

On the other hand at least some planning authorities have shown a bit more independence than Nottinghamshire. In Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, as well as earlier in Lancashire, planning authorities have turned down developments on planning grounds showing Nottinghamshire what it could and should have done – despite the threat that the government might then take the decision over their heads as happened in Lancashire.

In Nottinghamshire however planning officials have shephearded the politicians and obediently followed government planning guidance. This doublethink tells them they must do something about climate change while at the same time giving “great weight” to the commercial development of fossil fuels. The planners take seriously what is supposed to be a presumption in favour of development – rather than a presumption for protecting public and the environment which would mean saying NO to this industry.

And as for the conditions that are supposed to make the industry safe for people and environment – unelected officials can give waivers to abandon what councillors have decided – or simply not enforce them anyway. Serious thought is now needed for a new type of planning regime as the existing one is failing.

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