Monday, 1 June 2015

Fracking And Bridgend

Today we have a guest post from David Elston, Pirate Party Spokesperson for Wales and Bridgend election candidate. It focusses on a local environmental issue at Bridgend but the perspective applies to many areas of Wales and the UK - fossil fuel companies, supported by the Government, want to frack everywhere that would make them a profit.




I was the first candidate  to sign the Frack-Free promise with Greenpeace and took it upon myself to push the incumbent politicians on their stance on fracking. Ian Spiller, an ex-Conservative, now Independent local councillor responded to my question:

“What is the current situation and your stance regarding fracking in Merthyr Mawr and Ogmore?”

Mr Spiller's reply:

“I don't know enough about fracking so I am staying out of it.”

If only he was in some kind of elected position where it was his duty to know something about it and be involved!

Since then, it was revealed that our beloved Merthyr Mawr has a pre-fracking application; an environmental permit at land of Tyla Lane, Merthyr Mawr, Bridgend, CF32 0LT. Naturally, should the test bore holes created test positive for natural gas then they will follow this up with hydraulic fracking. Before the General Election the Pirate Party strongly opposed fracking and we continue to advocate for a national halt to all fracking across the UK.

I appreciate that some may take no issue with shale gas extraction itself as there is the argument it can be conducted safely with the correct regulation. My argument is Wales already creates a surplus of energy so firstly we do not need to further our dependence on fossil fuels at our landscape's expense. Furthermore we are already not regulating the gas industry vigorously enough. Unburned gasses are being released into the atmosphere, causing huge damage to our ozone layer. We do not need the added pollution fracking would create from this under-regulated industry. We should not be seeking to increase our energy production at such a substantially high cost, the destruction of the beauty and sustainability of our environment.

Namely we have the Pant y Wal wind-farm and several solar farms are popping up in Bridgend. With the rate in which both Bridgend and The Vale of Glamorgan are increasing their solar farms and how wind turbines can easily double up with animals on the pasture land, even if the additional energy was needed, there are clearly less damaging and more sustainable alternatives which are already here and affordable.

Merthyr Mawr has a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the plant and insect life. It is also used by other animals. Fracking would destroy this site.

Lest we forget the direct impact on human lives: drilling is not without noise and debris. There are plenty of farms and a village close to the proposed fracking site and fracking has been shown to cause considerable damage to water sources, land, animal and plant-life in much of the world. Similar to the situation in Barton Moss, the only access route is not suitable for the HGVs needed to carry the heavy drilling equipment. There are no pedestrian walkways and limited passing spots for cars. A wagon would absolutely dominate the path and pose a significant danger to any walkers and an obstruction to other vehicles even if the road could hold the weight.

I will say this was not a decision I made being wrapped up in the Anti-Fracking protests or a rush to oppose the establishment for the sake of it. Our policy to oppose fracking is based on rational debate and the evidence above. Our decision is free from personal financial gain or knee-jerk politics. My father, a working union man, has worked in the gas industry for longer than I have been alive. I have no desire to see men such as my father out of work, which is why I say the renewable energy market can provide replacement jobs without damaging our land and water.

This iconic and unique landscape was used for scenes in the film Lawrence of Arabia and has also featured in the TV series Dr Who. Do we really want to replace that with a fracking site?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Fracking is unnecessary and unwanted in Bridgend. Let's keep it out together!

www.pirateparty.org.uk

The area which would be ruined by fracking

8 comments:

Ian Spiller said...

Dear Anthony, It's nice to know that quotes are simply selected and published to suit your story.

First of all the exploratory bore gore went for planning permission in 2013, at this time this was the time to object. In my position as chair of Broadlands Residents Association we invited residents from Broadlands and the wider community to our June 2013 meeting in which we discussed this topic in great detail. We had a wide range of backgrounds from planning, geology and environmental campaigners, at this meeting we highlighted our major concerns as a community which fundamentally were the proximitaely to a Site of special scientific interest as well as numerous other concerns.

When asked to condemn the practice of fracking by yourself in any location I commented that I do not have enough information to make an informed decision, this is based around the reliability of such information which on the whole is either provided by environmental pressure groups who fiercely oppose fracking or on behalf of drilling companies who are quite obviously going to be weighted the other way. In view of the lack of balanced information I cannot form an opinion as to be either for or against, what I am however certain of is that no bore holes or fracking activity should take place without it, in my personal opinion at this time.

As you seem incredibly misinformed about my actions taken on behalf of this community I have pinned below the extracts from our meeting dated 3rd June 2013 and the subsequent letter to Bridgend council regarding this practice, I actually wrote in on behalf of the association and as an individual.

May I suggest in future that an active involvement in the early stages of a consultation period before planning is granted would be the best course of action, should you like to become a more active voice for the community we would welcome your involvement. I would also welcome an apology for completely misquoting my views on fracking at this location.

Fracking at Merthyr Mawr - Broadlands Residents Association Meeting 3/6/13

The meeting was advised of a proposed borehole for fracking exploration at Merthyr Mawr. The borehole testing is for 36 weeks, drilling day and night, to understand the strata below site and the potential for extraction of natural gas.

The planning application has been with BCBC for a few weeks. From a planning perspective, BCBC have conducted consultations that they are supposed to have done. However, it was felt that the level of consultation has been inadequate. Broadlands residents and LCC have been left out of the consultation exercise because of authority boundaries. A leaflet from the Green Party was delivered to some households. There is a period of 21 days from the date from registration of the application for comments to be received. However, there no absolute cut-off and comments can still be made at this stage even though the deadline has passed. Residents are encouraged to respond.

BCBC Councillors are fully aware of application and have asked for site visit. Merthyr Mawr Community Council meet next week and have asked for more time to discuss at their meeting.

Objections to the borehole include ecology, e.g. very near site of special scientific interest, bats who are sensitive to light pollution, butterflies, slowworms, newts (need good photographic evidence of these), the visual impact of the work and highways issues such as narrow roads, no room for two vehicles to pass and turning, ponies and highway safety. There is also some concern that this site sits on the Pilgrims Passage and there may be archaeological considerations. It was felt it will be difficult to object to the principle of fracking itself due to national policy on the practice.

Discussion included issues such as the process of fracking and potential seismic activity, gas tankers, fracking fluid, waste water under the aquifer and potential pollution of the water table, settlement tanks and the explosive risk of methane.

Ian Spiller said...

BROADLANDS RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION
C/O 3 CARN WEN, BROADLANDS, BRIDGEND, CF31 5BW

3rd June 2013


Mr A Gore
Planning Department
Bridgend County Borough Council
Civic Offices
Angel Street
Bridgend
CF31 3HX



Dear Mr Gore

Objection to proposed exploration borehole, Tyla Farm, Merthyr Mawr
LPA Reference: 13/322

On behalf of the Broadlands Residents’ Association, I wish to lodge our formal OBJECTION to the above application.

The Association has a number of fundamental concerns. These relate to:

• the highway safety implications of the proposed works arising from the additional HGV movements that they would generate;
• the potential effect on European and Nationally designated sites of nature conservation ;
• the effect on protected species present at and in the vicinity of the site;
• loss of high quality agricultural land;
• the effect on the local landscape and visual impact;
• noise;
• pollution risk relating to the use of chemical lubricants; and
• archaeological impact.

We detail our concerns in turn below.

Highways

The proposed development site is accessible only by a narrow single track lane with high hedge banks.

Contrary to the statement made in the application submission, the lane provides no formal passing places between the site access and the A48. The only means by which vehicles may pass at present is by using a private drive access or driving onto unsurfaced verge. This is entirely unsuitable as a solution to address potential conflict of cars with articulated vehicles, or indeed, two articulated vehicles passing to and from the site.

It is customary in such situations for the applicant to be requested to provide a survey of the access route and to demonstrate that vehicles may track in both directions without giving rise to vehicular conflict. This has not been done in this case. We would respectfully suggest that without this information the local planning authority is unable to make a reasoned assessment of the highway effects of the proposal.

We would also note that the lane provides no segregation of vehicular and non vehicular traffic. While, in part for the issues outlined above, the lane is only lightly trafficked, it is, as a consequence, used heavily for recreational purposes by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Indeed, we note that Tyla Farm operates as a commercial stables and regularly uses the lane for access to the local bridleway network.

There is already a highway safety issue of conflict between vehicular traffic and other uses on this lane, and intensification of this use, particularly using HGV vehicles, is likely to exacerbate this. The applicant has to-date failed to address this issue at all.

We note further that while the applicant anticipates numerous HGV movements to the site, no information is provided as to how vehicles will be able to manoeuvre within the site to enter and leave it in a forward gear.

Finally, and related to the above issue, for HGVs to be able to enter and leave the site in a forward gear, a surfaced turning area will be required. No mention is made in the submission of this surfacing or its extent and no details of tracking are provided.

Taking these issues together, it is our view that the application is seriously deficient in its consideration of highways and access issues.

Ian Spiller said...

Ecology

In respect of the sensitive ecological context of the application site we have read the supporting ecological note and would respectfully suggest that it is woefully inadequate.

In particular, we note that this statement makes no reference to the site's location only 1,400 metres from a Special Area of Conservation, which is of European importance for nature conservation and protected under UDP policy EV18. It is a similar distance from a Site of Special Scientific and a Local Nature Reserve, both of which are protected under UDP Policy EV19 of the adopted UDP.

Paragraph 23 of Minerals Planning Policy Wales states that:

“ Minerals proposals within or likely to significantly affect potential and classified SPAs, designated, candidate or proposed SACs or Ramsar sites must be carefully examined in relation to the site’s conservation objectives in order to ascertain whether or not they are likely to be significant in terms of the ecological objectives of the site.” (our emphasis)

Paragraph 25 makes a similar statement in respect of SSSIs.

Even though the application site itself falls outside of these designations, both the above ground and under ground operations have the clear potential to significantly affect them and ought to be assessed accordingly. That the applicant has failed to make any reference to these designations is extremely concerning and brings into serious question the robustness of the ecological assessment undertaken.

The site is also intended to be lit over a 24-hour period. The implications of this for the foraging routes of bats in the vicinity is obvious, and the failure to consider this issue at all raises a further question mark over the reliability of the applicant’s report.

Finally, the applicant indicates in the submitted statement that it is intended to widen the existing site access to allow HGVs to enter the site freely. This will involve the removal of hedgerows that have the potential to hold ecological potential and it is essential that a hedgerow survey is undertaken before removal can be permitted.

We would also note in this regard that the hedgerow in question is of demonstrable heritage and is without doubt an “important” hedgerow as defined by the Hedgerow Regulations 1997. As such, removal of the hedgerow without express consent could potentially constitute an offence.

In summary therefore, it is our view that before the local planning authority can reach a decision on this application, a comprehensive re-assessment of the ecological effects of this proposal is essential. In particular, consideration of the effects on designated areas and on bats is required.

Landscape impacts

The site is situated in a prominent location elevated above open ground to the east and west and is highly visible from a number of public vantage points. While the ground works themselves may not be highly visible, the proposal includes 24 hour drilling which will necessitate 24-hour illumination of the site. The applicant has not to-date provided a plan to demonstrate the light spread of the proposed floodlighting. Without this information, neither we nor the local planning authority are in a position to conclude whether this will have an acceptable effect in landscape and visual terms.

Ian Spiller said...

Loss of high quality agricultural land

Paragraph 32 of Minerals Planning Policy Wales notes that:

“Land of grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food Agricultural Land Classification is the best and most versatile agricultural land and should be protected from development as a national resource for the future. Unless clear evidence is provided to demonstrate the feasibility of restoring such land to a standard equivalent to its original Agricultural Land Classification grade then it should only be used for mineral development exceptionally if there is an overriding UK need for the development and sufficient land in lower grades is either unavailable or available lower grade land has an environmental value recognised by statutory designation which outweighs agricultural considerations.”

In this case, the application site is in active agricultural use and is evidently of a grade where this guidance would apply. However, the applicant has failed to provide any information on restoration of the site. In particular the applicant has not shown how any impacts of the hard surfacing, physical works and potential pollution arising from drilling fluids will be mitigated such that the land may be re-used for its previous agricultural use should the borehole testing yield negative results.

In our view the applicant ought to be required to submit an ALC survey of the application site, together with full details of intended site restoration at the end of the 36- week drilling period.


Noise

The submitted noise statement takes as its basis ‘Minerals Policy Statement 2’. This is however English guidance that is not applicable in Wales, where (with the exception of Paras 7-10) Minerals planning Guidance Note 2 continues to apply, alongside Minerals Planning Policy Wales as mentioned above.

In our view, to provide the LPA with a reasonable basis for considering this aspect of the proposal, a revised assessment with full regard to the requirements of TAN11 ‘Noise’ is essential.

Pollution

The applicant’s statement refers to the use of 4,400 gallons of drilling fluids but does not provide any details as to how this is to be transported and stored on site or what precautions will be taken in respect of potential leakage or leaching of this fluid to protect the local aquifer and agricultural land. This information is essential to a proper understanding of the possible environmental effects of this proposal.

Archaeology

The application site sits on the route of the Pilgrims’ Trail and has potential to be of significant archaeological potential. To ensure that no archaeological features are damaged or destroyed by the proposed borehole, a full archaeological assessment of the site is essential prior to the grant of any planning consent. To-date, this has not been undertaken.

Conclusions

It is apparent from the comments above that we consider that this application raises a number of significant concerns that have not been addressed by the applicant. Until and unless these are addressed fully, the Broadlands Residents’ Association wishes to OBJECT to this application.

I trust that the above will be taken into account in your consideration of the proposal and if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.

CIN said...

We always try to look for common ground rather than seeing divisiveness, and it does seem here as if, on the key point - objecting to proposals that damage the environment - you agree. So thanks to both of you (Ian and David). If everyone was as concerned about their local environment then things would be a lot better.

Ian Spiller said...

Thank you, I just didn't appreciated having my views or actions misrepresented online, as you can imagine it came as quite a shock to find myself being quoted incorrectly.

CIN said...

No problem - I'm not aware of what goes on in Bridgend, so at least now you've both been able to respond and the focus can go back to actions that protect the environment in Wales. Which we all agree is a good thing. :-)

Unknown said...

I am surprised to find Ian Spiller dedicate so much time to this blog given this is not the first occasion it has been posted to new or old media.

I have attempted to open a dialogue with Ian in this regard and received the response posted in this story with nothing further. If Ian feels his views or actions were misrepresented, perhaps the situation could have been avoided by answering the repeated attempts at communication with more than a one liner, mentioned in the article.

I can also confirm that I live on the Broadlands and I and others have never received an invitation from Mr Spiller to give comment on the fracking situation. Some of the residents that have not received an invitation live in the same street as him. I feel if Mr Spiller wants to prove he is connected with the locals, he needs to do more than set up a Facebook page and self-proclaim a "residents association" as most people on Broadlands do not speak with him.

I have still yet to have any communication from Mr Spiller, despite posting this article, other than in the comments section below.

Rather interestingly though, a Conservative campaigner did knock on my door, and mentioned "Ian is still one of us though" despite having turned in his conservative membership.

I would certainly urge readers to let actions speak louder than words - which it seems they did when the Conservatives were not elected in 2015. This is probably in no part due to the Conservative candidate refusing to sign the frack-free promise.