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Shale Industry Wants Law Change As Council Blocks Drilling Plan

Ben Webster, The Times

Plans for a multibillion-pound fracking industry in Britain have suffered a huge setback after councillors defied their own legal advisers by rejecting an application for the first drilling site. Fracking companies immediately called for a change in the law to limit councils’ ability to block applications.

Cuadrilla is “strongly considering” an appeal after Lancashire county council’s development control committee rejected its application to drill and hydraulically fracture up to four exploratory wells.

The committee said that the site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, would have an “unacceptable noise impact” and “adverse urbanising effect on the landscape”. Planning officials had recommended approval of the application and the council’s QC had advised that it would be “unreasonable” to refuse it on environmental grounds.

Cuadrilla said it believed that the councillors had been influenced by legal advice commissioned by anti-fracking groups.

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said that the committee had accepted “legal advice put forward by protesters, yet legal advice sought by the industry was not even considered”.

The councillors had been advised that Cuadrilla was likely to win an appeal and that the council could be ordered to pay all the company’s legal costs, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mr Egan said the rejection, more than a year after the application was submitted, would make it harder to attract foreign investment and could lead to chemical plants, which rely on gas, relocating overseas.

“It’s not good news for UK plc,” he said. “There’s competition for investment and money doesn’t have a passport. You end up with industry voting with its feet.”

An appeal by Cuadrilla could ultimately be determined by Greg Clark, the communities secretary and an ally of George Osborne, the chancellor, who strongly supports fracking. If the appeal results in a public inquiry, it could take two years to reach a decision.

A fracking industry source said that discussions would now take place with ministers about changing planning rules to require councils to make a decision on fracking applications within six months. If they missed the deadline, the government would take the decision.

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