Fracking campaigners' prepare for fresh battle against Woodsett plans

ANTI-fracking campaigners are gearing up for a second battle with Ineos on Friday — six months after successfully beating the same drilling plan.

But this time Rotherham Borough Council has recommended that its planning board members approve the 2,800-metre exploratory well in Woodsetts.

The decision will be made at the Town Hall this morning at a meeting starting at 9am.

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RMBC noted that when the Harthill proposal was passed at appeal in June, the inspector gave great weight to the Government being in favour of test drilling.

But Woodsetts Against Fracking member Richard Scholey said: “We have always maintained that just because Harthill was accepted, it doesn’t mean Woodsetts should be.

“Although the drill plans are similar, the locations are very, very different. There are some striking differences, such as the proximity of the well to the village.

“If you are a house-builder and you have a design approved, it doesn’t mean you can plonk that house anywhere just because it’s accepted in one site.”

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The protest group has been working closely with Woodsetts Parish Council, compiling its own noise, traffic and ecology surveys to be presented at the meeting today.

The Government’s position of wanting to encourage more exploratory drilling was shown in July’s revised national planning guidelines, although Friends of the Earth is mounting a legal challenge against the new policy.

Mr Scholey said: “Clearly, central government has tilted the playing fields significantly in favour of exploratory drilling.

“We know this won’t be easy because it’s not a level playing field but we still feel that we have a very strong argument.”

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There have been about 650 objections to the new Woodsetts plan, including from the village’s parish council and its counterparts in Firbeck and Letwell.

The Woodland Trust has raised worries about damage and disturbance from the drilling on ancient Dewidales Wood.

A spokeswoman added: “We are seriously concerned about the siting of this test well within close proximity of an irreplaceable habitat. 

“We would consider that a 50-metre buffer is required between the ancient woodland and the test well.”

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Planning board members rejected the plan in March over a lack of ecology information from Ineos and concerns about highway safety.

But a report from officers to today’s meeting said: “The council’s transportation unit, along with Highways England, have concluded that a safe and suitable access can be achieved.

“Whilst there are some omissions within the updated supporting ecological data, the council’s ecologist considers that the applicant has submitted sufficient evidence to overcome the previous reasons for refusal.”

A separate application would be required for fracking at the site if the test well goes ahead and finds the underground geology to be suitable.

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