DC Casebook: Mineral development - Problem with undertaking blocks drilling

An energy company's plans to drill a test borehole in East Yorkshire have been scuppered by a defective legal undertaking which failed to ensure that the scheme would have a competent developer.

The appellants proposed a temporary drilling rig to appraise methane from underlying coal beds. A hard core track 400m long would be constructed and soil stripped from the site would create bunds to accommodate the drilling rig. The operation would last 60 days, after which the land would be restored to agriculture.

The council opposed the scheme, arguing that access arrangements were inadequate for the type and number of vehicles involved. It asserted that the size and weight of the vehicles would damage the public highway and cause slippage of a roadside embankment, thus obstructing a locally important drainage channel. The internal drainage board (IDB) agreed with this conclusion.

The inspector heard that the scheme could generate 83 vehicle movements, including between ten and 15 heavy goods vehicles per day. The heaviest, at up to 80 tonnes, would be a low loader carrying the rig. The appellants had committed to survey the affected section of the access road before and after development and repair any resulting damage. A further agreement with the IDB sought to ensure that the drain was not damaged.

These arrangements seemed satisfactory, the inspector concluded. However, the undertaking with the council and the agreement with the IDB included clauses preventing the appellants from passing their interest to another party without that party accepting the requirements set out within them. The inspector found this unacceptable, reasoning that other parties would not be bound by the terms because they were not signatories.

Moreover, he considered that a condition restricting the permission to the appellants was inappropriate because shares in the company could be transferred to other people without affecting its legal standing. He ruled that the scheme was unacceptable in the absence of adequate safeguards to ensure that works to the highway and drain would be enforceable by the council and drainage board.

DCS Number 100-069-280

Inspector Keri Williams; Inquiry.

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