Planning appeals - democracy in action

Planning appeals are an established part of our democratic system of decision-making, not a means of overriding local opinion.

By Lee Petts, Remsol.

Halite Energy has recently received consent to develop former salt caverns in Lancashire and repurpose them for fast-cycle underground gas storage.

The scheme was first introduced by a company called Canataxx in 2003 (though it acquired the site in 1997). Its plans were turned down, and so began a lengthy process of planning inquiries and appeals. Canataxx eventually bowed out, and Halite Energy obtained the rights to develop the project.

It, too, has been mired in planning appeals. Now it has finally received consent, the appeal process has been criticised and called "undemoctratic" because the decision wasn't made locally. But is it?

Established process

No, not really. In fact, the appeals process is very much a part of our democratic decision-making process.

To understand that, you need to flip it on its head. Imagine that Canataxx had been given permission for its plans on the first attempt back in 2003. Local residents, opposed to the development, would have been able to challenge the award of planning permission. That challenge wouldn't have been heard in Lancashire or ruled upon by our elected representatives, but that wouldn't make it inherently unfair, biased or undemocratic - just like an appeal considered by the Planning Inspectorate or Secretary of State isn't undemocratic either.

Shale gas and the Brinscall quarry decisions

In June, Lancashire County Council refused planning permission for two exploratory shale gas drilling sites on the Fylde. It is widely expected that the applicant, Cuadrilla Resources, will appeal these decisions.

Whilst nearby residents of the sites at Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood probably don't relish the prospect of an appeal, it's clear that there are sufficient technical and legal grounds upon which an appeal could be pursued - especially in light of another recent decision made by the very same County Councillors on the Development Control Committee, who last week approved plans for the extension of a quarry close to the quiet village of Brinscall near Chorley.

The quarry extension would be in operation for around 27 years, compared with the much more temporary 6 year shale gas exploration sites. It would generate 75,000 HGV movements (averaging nine per day Monday to Saturday) for the whole of that time, and leave a much more visible and lasting imprint on the landscape. The closest houses are just 80 metres away, whereas the nearest homes to the proposed shale gas sites are over 200 metres away, which means residents near the quarry will be much more significantly impacted by noise.

County Councillors refused the two shale gas sites on the grounds of landscape, traffic and noise impacts and yet approved the extension to the quarry despite those same concerns being evident. 8 members of the Development Control Committee voted to approve the Brinscall quarry plans, with 4 against and 1 abstention (watch the webcast here

It's exactly this sort of double-standard that the appeals process exists to deal with.

Cuadrilla quite rightly can now appeal the refusal of its plans, and, likewise, residents of Brinscall and Withnell could quite legitimately challenge the approval of the quarry extension plans.

It cuts both ways, and that's exactly why it is an entirely democratic process. IMAGE: © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence