Fracking firm Cuadrilla has been given another two years to fully restore its controversial exploration site in Fylde to its former use as an unremarkable field.Advertisement
The plot, off Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, became the focus of semi-permanent protest after the government gave the green light for test drilling in October 2016.
Work began the following April and – under the planning permission granted – the company was required to complete all decommissioning and restoration activity within a period of 75 months.
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However, Lancashire County Council’s development control committee has now agreed to a request from Cuadrilla to push back what would have been a deadline of next month until July 2025. No further fracking will be allowed to be carried out during that extended timeframe.
In a meeting on Thursday morning, committee members were split over the proposal, which had been recommended for approval by County Hall planning officials who had described the delay as “unfortunate”, but concluded that it was acceptable.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies and Fylde Borough Council had both objected to the plans, along with Fylde West county councillor John Singleton and 84 members of the public.
A demonstration was staged outside County Hall ahead of and during the meeting by Nanashire – Nanas Against Fracking – and Preston New Road Rolling Roadside Protest.
In his objection, Mr. Menzies said that there had been “adequate time” to restore the site, but suggested that Cuadrilla had not done so in the “hope that there will be a change of government policy”.
Friends of the Earth made a similar charge, stating that the firm had “not accepted the reality of national policy”.
A moratorium – or indefinite ban – is currently in place on fracking, having been reinstated when Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister last autumn. His short-lived predecessor Liz had announced in September that she would remove the block on fracking where there was “local support” for the process.
It had originally been outlawed in 2019 following a series of tremors at the Little Plumpton site that year. The largest of them – measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale – saw fracking suspended in the area and it never recommenced.
The development control committee heard that the decommissioning process is lengthy – not least because of the eight months it is expected to take for the necessary safety checks to be carried out in order for Cuadrilla to be able to surrender its permit to the Environment Agency.
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Committee member Steve Holgate called for the time extension to be refused so that the authority could at least take the enforcement action that would enable closer monitoring of the work to ensure that there was no further delay – even if it still ended up taking the two years that had been sought.
However, others warned that if the matter went to appeal, it would drag the situation out even further – “for God knows how long”, in the words of County Cllr Eddie Pope.
He suggested an additional condition of six-monthly monitoring reports being presented to the committee – which was accepted.
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Under the approval, all the fencing and surface materials must be removed within 18 months, with the final topsoil added within two years and the site vacated.
The time extension was supported by a majority of committee members.
Cuadrilla did not address the committee and has been approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service for comment.
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