Shale gas testing refused over highways concern

Further consideration of highways issue has led the secretary of state to refuse permission for shale gas exploration at a site in Lancashire, reversing previous indications that the scheme would be approved.

The site comprised agricultural and Ministry of Defence land. The secretary of state was reviewing the proposal following a separate inquiry into unresolved highway concerns raised by the county council and local protest groups as well as the emergence of other material considerations since the original inquiry, including the revised NPPF and a series of habitats assessment court rulings.

He accepted the need for the project, noting that while it would not necessarily lead directly to production of shale gas, it was a necessary precursor for exploitation of the resource. Citing paragraph 205 of the revised NPPF, he considered that great weight was to be attached to these potential benefits. However, he qualified this view by stating that there is no government support for shale gas development that would be unsafe and unsustainable.

The outstanding issue centred on risks to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians on preferred HGV routes to the site, which comprised narrow winding lanes. The highways inquiry inspector had been concerned that the appellants had underestimated the risks from the volume and percentage increase in HGVs using the routes and found insufficient evidence that these could be mitigated. The inspector also felt that a traffic management plan promoting the use of passing places with limited visibility and trimming of high hedges would not adequately address these concerns and would be unworkable in practice.

Accepting his inspectors’ recommendations, the secretary of state concluded that, in the absence of satisfactory mitigation measures, the preferred means of accessing the site by lorry could not be considered to represent a safe and sustainable approach. As the identified risks that would cause demonstrable harm had not been eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels by the mitigation proposed, he held that the development was not in accordance with adopted local plan policy or paragraphs 108 and 109 of the revised NPPF. 

Inspectors: Wendy McKay and Mel Middleton; Inquiry

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