Councillors' objection withdrawal branded a 'betrayal' by fracking protesters

UNDETERRED fracking protesters vowed to fight on after councillors withdrew an objection to drilling in Woodsetts.

Planning board members voted to remove their concern about highways — three months before the appeal by chemical firm Ineos is heard.

Action group Woodsetts Against Fracking called the move a “huge betrayal of the community” and “an affront to democracy”.

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The board have twice rejected proposals for a 2,800-metre exploratory well — latterly in September when road and environment dangers were cited.

WAF spokesman Richard Scholey told last Thursday’s meeting that there had been four traffic accidents between the village and Owday Lane in two weeks — one involving an air ambulance being called after a pedestrian was knocked down.

He added: “In September, this board came to a decision that this scheme represented an unacceptable risk to vulnerable road users.

“Since that date, nothing has materially changed.

“There does appear to be a tendency, among transport officers in particular, to set their own bar at a level others find perplexing.

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“One could be forgiven for thinking there’s a certain amount of protectionism here on the part of planning officers.”

Officers said they had struggled to find external consultants who would defend the highways objection at the appeal. They also noted the potential costs involved.

But Mr Scholey said: “Those few thousand pounds will be nothing compared to what the local authority will incur if you allow fracking to get a foothold in the borough.

“The resultant and long-term health costs, costs of repairing roads and policing costs, to name but a few, will be huge in comparison.”

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Planning board member Cllr Jenny Whysall said: “At the meeting where we refused, I can’t actually see any reason to change the view that we put forward.

“I’ve thought long and hard about this. I think we have to look at what we do as a planning board. It seems to suggest that we are superfluous if we accept that officers are always right.

“I say that with admiration for our team but I think on this one we have a moral obligation. We are not professional planners but we do know the places that we represent. That’s got to have validity.”

But fellow board member Cllr John Williams said: “We’ve got to have confidence that the council has a good chance of winning that appeal. To do otherwise is irresponsible.

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“What’s changed is that the council has made an effort to find consultants to defend that reason.

“There’s been five that have said no and only one shown any interest in taking it on. It’s serious evidence that we have to consider.”

Ineos Shale chief operating officer Tom Pickering said the firm was pleased by the board’s decision.

He added: “This has been a waste of time and money for everyone involved and we are disappointed that this objection was mounted in the first place.

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“The council has acknowledged that defending a planning inquiry on the grounds it presented was a futile exercise that would incur significant cost and that dropping it was pragmatic and appropriate.

“We regret that this outbreak of common sense didn’t occur earlier.”

The exploratory well could lead to fracking if underground conditions are found to be favourable.

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