MOTIONS ON NOTICE
To consider the following motion: fracking and any associated hydrocarbon extraction processes in or under Herefordshire’s vitally important Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Council considered the following notice of motion.
Motion one – Fracking and any associated hydrocarbon extraction processes in or under Herefordshire’s vitally important Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
In moving the motion, Councillor Newman made the following points:
· The argumentation for this motion was set out in the published text. This was not an anti-fracking motion and it was not nimbyism. Fracking was a complex issue. The well-considered recent report from the House of Commons’ own Environmental Audit Committee was clear that significant risks existed.
· In Kerne Bridge drilling was being considered in an AONB, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation, with a protected fresh water aquifer under Ross-on-Wye. This licensed area was clearly a most precious landscape and environment. Given the clear risks, the government should not place some of Herefordshire’s most precious assets directly in the front line.
· Herefordshire was significantly more reliant than the average county on tourism. It was noted that nearly 10% of the County’s jobs and over £450m of annual income depended on tourism. The Wye Valley AONB area was an outstanding asset to “Brand Herefordshire”, packed with tourism businesses and jobs, clustered around nationally important sites such as Goodrich Castle, Symonds Yat, and the river Wye itself. The potential damage fracking may cause to the county’s attractiveness to visitors, income and jobs, could detrimentally affect the whole of the county.
Councillor Swinglehurst seconded the motion and reserved her right to speak.
Councillor Norman proposed an amendment to the motion.
Councillor Norman noted support for all points raised, agreeing that the impact on tourism and house prices would be considerable if the fracking licences were issued. Additional risks were felt to apply to the whole county, not just AONBs. The council’s commitment to reducing pollution and mitigating climate change was highlighted. Focus on decreasing dependency on carbon emitting fuels and supporting renewable energy schemes was advocated. The amendment proposed would add the following words to the final sentence of the printed motion: “or in any other part of our county’
The amendment was seconded by Councillor Bartlett.
The following principal points were made on the proposed amendment:
· It was highlighted that fracking had been positive in the United States of America for their economy and environment. It was noted that fracking offered big advantages for the county which needed to be examined, especially given the context of leaving the European Union. However, it was felt that it was right to support fracking, but in the right and appropriate places.
· Support was offered for the motion, but not for the amendment, on the basis that the council’s proactive planning committee, underpinned by good planning policies, was the appropriate forum to determine where or if fracking applications be granted.
· The academic nature of the debate was emphasised. It was proposed by a number of councillors that fracking should not go ahead in Herefordshire until further testing in other more economically viable parts of the country had been undertaken.
· It was noted that other threats in the county existed, notably from renewable energy schemes such as wind-turbines. Support should be offered for the motion on the basis that similar protections should be extended to proposals for wind energy schemes in other parts of the county.
· Other areas of the AONBs in the county were potentially at risk. As had been shown in other parts of the world gas had leaked into aquifers used to provide drinking water for homes. This led to the conclusion that it was too early to say how fracking technology impacted on the environment and natural assets.
· The National Planning Policy Framework was highlighted as providing the highest possible protection for AONBs. This led to speculation on how national government policy may be interpreted if the planning committee were to refuse planning permission on AONB sites. Reference was drawn to a case in Lancashire where, despite almost universal local objection, the government had allowed fracking to be licensed.
· Reference was drawn to a recent notice of motion on intensive livestock rearing which had been defeated at Council on the grounds that existing policy provisions were felt to be adequate. The same applied to fracking where a lack of specific policies may weaken the council’s ability to take robust decisions.
· It was felt that only protecting certain parts of the county was an anathema. It was suggested that fracking just a few yards away from an AONB would not necessarily protect it from the impacts. Aligning concerns with neighbouring counties who had passed a similar motion should be considered.
The amendment was lost.
Councillor Swinglehurst, as seconder to the original motion, then spoke on the original motion.
Councillor Swinglehurst thanked Councillor Newman and all members for the excellent debate. Misgivings were noted about placing AONBs in the frontline of fracking proposals. It was argued that the negative impacts fracking would have on the tranquillity, water quality and biodiversity in these areas and on tourism would be unacceptable. The economy of the region would suffer as a result.
The county of Herefordshire was highlighted as having above average levels of seismic activity which needed consideration. While acknowledging levels of risk associated with fracking existed it was highlighted that there were also big rewards. Balancing these competing elements was advocated.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee had noted that ‘despite the assurances by some that the environmental risks can be safely accommodated by existing regulatory systems, an extensive range of uncertainties remain. With particular hazards to ground water quality and supplies, waste and air omissions, healthy biodiversity, the geological integrity of the areas involved and from noise and disruption. It is imperative that the environment is protected from potentially irreversible damage’.
Tolkien’s inspiration for Middle Earth was referenced as being influenced by the West Midlands, or as it was once known, West Mercia. It was argued strongly that it fell to local members to protect the AONB for future generations. Support for the motion was noted with a request to all members of council to do likewise.
The Chairman invited Councillor Newman to sum up. Councillor Newman thanked all members for their helpful insights and remarks.
The Chairman put the original motion to the vote.
RESOLVED: That the Executive be asked to consider the risks of hydraulic fracturing, and the high importance of tourism income to this County and to write accordingly to the Secretary of State to ask the Government to consider withholding any licence which would allow fracking and any associated hydrocarbon extraction processes in or under Herefordshire’s vitally important Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.