Councillors are to press on with fighting a fracking plan at a cost of thousands of pounds – despite going against their own officers’ wishes.
They decided to continue to oppose the scheme on traffic grounds – despite experts saying that would not stand up to scrutiny.
Engineering company INEOS wants to start exploratory drilling at at site at Bramleymoor Lane, Chesterfield. After Derbyshire County Council failed to rule on the project in time, INEOS said it would take the authority to a planning appeal, which will be held in June.
Councillors hastily convened a meeting to discuss their strategy.
The meeting, held on Friday, May 4, saw three members of the council’s planning sub-committee rallied to discuss the INEOS Bramleymoor Lane exploratory mining appeal with advising officers.
It was “held at short notice to meet the inquiry deadlines” – and announced less than 24 hours beforehand.
Independent experts hired by the council felt that rejecting the mining proposals, near the village of Marsh Lane, due to the possible impact of traffic, would not stand up to scrutiny.
Councillors had felt that traffic from the development would have an unacceptable impact on local roads and road safety.
Despite recommendations to drop the traffic concerns from its formal objection – set to be submitted to the public inquiry – the sub-committee voted two to one against this motion.
Councillors Robert Parkinson and Paul Smith, Conservative and Labour members respectively, chose to maintain the traffic element, alongside two other issues based on noise and intrusion in Green Belt land.
Planning committee chairman, Conservative Cllr Martyn Ford, had voted to agree with the independent experts and drop these lines of objection.
Council leader Cllr Barry Lewis said, prior to the 11th-hour meeting, that he was “not at all happy” that it is “happening in this way” and vowed to “sort this out”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Cllr Anne Western said that it was a “total shambles”.
She said: “The council has weakened its position by publicly stating they want to drop the traffic case.
“Public confidence in the council has also been damaged.”
The county council opposed the plans, led by chemical and gas giant INEOS, back in February, also against the advice of officers.
However, this was a couple months after the company had already chosen to lodge an appeal through Government planning inspectors due what it felt was an unreasonable delay in discussing the application.
It had originally applied in May 2017.
INEOS wants to carry out drilling to investigate the suitability of the rock for fracking, which is the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into rocks deep underground to create tiny cracks so shale gas can flow up a well to the surface and be collected.
Exploratory mining would be carried out on the rural site, if approved, by erecting a 60-metre tall mining rig to drill 2,400 metre down into the ground.
A public inquiry is being held on June 19
at the Chesterfield Assembly Rooms to debate the appeal, which will be decided by central government.
The inquiry could last up to eight days.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service