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Special Digest

WSCC's shameful negligence

2807/2013

Summary.

Yesterday in Balcombe it became clear that Cuadrilla were in breach of several conditions of its planning consent.

The first regarded times of working on rig mobilsation. This should have been restricted to 7.30am to 1pm on Saturday. (And no working on Sunday). Cuadrilla's trucks continued to roll in, and the police said it was none of their business, a civil matter. Eventually, after one of the Balcombe residents (note Balcombe resident, NOT an out-of-area rent-a-mob, as those who have unselfishly come to support the village have been described!) went home and got copies of the conditions to show the police.

The initial police refusal to consider this was compounded by the fact that Cuadrilla is in breach of another condition, that a copy of the decision notice should have been kept in the site office. Breach number two.

Breach number three is that traffic signs directing heavy goods vehicles northbound onto the B2036 were not in place. Trucks were turning southbound.

Breach number four. Additional warning signage has not been put in place.

Surely here the police can not say that this is merely a civil matter? Surely they have some responsibility for highway safety?

And where was the Council, its planning and enforcement officers?

Surely someone in West Sussex County Council would have had the nous to realise it would have been a good idea to have at least one office on-site, if only as an observer? It is quite wrong - especially at weekend - to leave it to local residents to try and ensure the planning conditions which were placed for their well-being are being complied with.

As regards the signage, that should have been there, according to the conditions, since Cuadrilla started work on the site in September 2010. Where have WSCC officers been in that time? Asleep?

Although not a planning issue, as such, it is also reported that the traffic caused a road repair to be necessary, and there is evident damage to the trees at the side of the road near the site.

All the time we are told that we are secure in firm planning rules, environmental and other operational regulation. We are not. Even when rules are their, those responsible for monitoring turn a blind eye.

This is not new, in Lancashire it was clear that Lancashire County Council had neither the resources nor the inclination to monitor Cuadrilla's test sites. There, too, Cuadrilla were left to breach their conditions.

Although not a planning issue, as such, it is also reported that the traffic caused a road repair to be necessary, and there is evident damage to the trees at the side of the road near the site.

If this is what happens at the "exploration" stage what on earth will happen if (hopefully that is a big IF) things go ahead to shale gas production? It's a recipe for disaster.

I hope WSCC will respond after their weekend break showing a bit more responsibility.

Update

WSCC published a response to complaints about these matters.
They stated that on Friday 26th Cuadrilla applied for an extension of the hours of working on Saturday 27th July until 4pm and this was granted.
The planning condition required written authorisation from WSCC for any such temporary change. WSCC emailed their consent on the Friday afternoon.
WSCC therefore said Cuadrilla were not in any breach.
WSCC said "In retrospect, it is accepted that the Parish Council and the local Member should have been informed at the same time that the authorisation was given by officers to Cuadrilla. I apologise that this was not done and for any confusion caused."
"If future requests are made for any further temporary variations, I will seek to ensure that Cuadrilla give 48 hours’ notice of their requirements. This will allow us to consult the Parish Council and local Member in advance of a decision having to be made. We will also ensure that the decision is communicated to the Parish Council and local Member and, where possible, advertised more widely."

Firstly I have to say that whilst email is a standard means of communication these days it does not to me seem adequate to use this for formal communication in matters such as this. Written communication should be by signed letter. This may seem nitpicking, but unless we stick to accepted norms further problems occur. For example here, WSCC by relying on email allowed Cuadrilla to self-police. There was no check that Cuadrilla had printed out the email to have a copy on site, as they were required to do.

Regarding planning permission documents being on site WSCC report that Cuadrilla tell them that documents were on site and therefore there was no breach of planning condition. If the documents were indeed on site they appear not to have been available or accessible when enquiry was made. The documents should have included the notification by WSCC of the temporary variation of planning condition. The answer on this point is unsatisfactory.

On the point of signage and direction of lorries exiting the site, WSCC say Cuadrilla tell them they are "not aware" of any lorries turning left out of the site. If they did it must have been under police direction. Cuadrilla say all signs are in place but some were "impeded by protesters' signs and tents" on the verge approaching the site.

WSCC admit they failed to consult the Parish Council or local ward member before allowing a temporary override of working hours. The reply from WSCC makes no mention of any WSCC officer checking whether the signage is in place. There is no mention of any site visit to check documents are present and available. We can infer that no site visit was made before this rebuttal was issued (dated 30th July). Our opinion remains that WSCC have been negligent.

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