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Monday, 23 September 2013

Kent County Council Breaks Planning Rules

This post is about exploratory drilling for shale and coal bed methane gas in the former Kent Coalfield.  Why would I write about something that does not seem to be related to Thanet? Simple, because these planning applications involve test drilling, possibly leading to gas extraction and maybe fracking, in the middle of the chalk aquifer which provides the people of Thanet (and many other areas) with their water. This could  become a major issue for Thanet in the next few months
Ian

KEITH TAYLOR GREEN PARTY MEP AND CAMPIGNERS AT SHEPHERDSWELL DRILLING SITE
PRESS RELEASE
22 September
East Kent Gas Drilling Applications - KCC Breaks the Rules

Campaigners against exploratory shale and coal bed methane gas drilling at Guston, Tilmanstone and Shepherdswell have accused Kent County Council of breaking planning rules and best practice (1).

In a letter to KCC Planning boss, Sharon Thompson, East Kent Against Fracking supporter and Thanet Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, accuses officers of:

  • failing to ensure that the drilling company, Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd,  organised public meetings with residents of the three villages to discuss the applications and answer questions;
  • failing to advertise the planning applications in local newspapers;
  • failing to notify all village residents about the applications, rather than just those living in the immediate neighbourhood of the proposed drilling site;
  • failing to organise village public meetings at which residents could find out how to object to the applications;
  • failing  to provide parish, district and county councillors with technical briefings on the three applications.
Said Driver: “These applications are extremely controversial and have potentially life-changing implications for local residents.  KCC and the Local Government Association have devised special rules for consulting with the public and briefing councillors about such applications. But it seems to me that the planners have torn up the rule book. They have not briefed the relevant parish, district or county councillors and they have failed to properly inform and consult with the people of Guston, Tilmanstone and Shepherdswell.”

Shepherdswell resident Pamela Mudge-Wood said: “I heard nothing from the developers or KCC about this application. No letters have been sent to me and no public meetings organised by KCC or Coastal Oil and Gas. I found out about the applications from Facebook and was so worried that I started leafleting  Shepherdswell myself. We now have a small group of about 20 residents who are beginning to campaign against the applications.”

Chair of East Kent Against Fracking Rosemary Rechter said: “KCCs management of these applications has been absolutely appalling. Their failure to follow the rules means that local people are being denied their democratic rights to make informed comments about extremely important issues in their villages.”
Driver is now calling upon KCC to terminate the “fatally flawed” consultation process and re-start it, allowing residents more time to understand and comment on these complex applications and providing councillors with technical briefing sessions. If KCC fails to do this, Driver says that he will complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

In a separate development, countryside charity CPRE-Protect Kent will be holding a public meeting at Shepherdswell Village Hall on 25th September at 7.00pm to discuss the applications.
Ends
For more information contact Councillor Ian Driver on 07866588766
Notes

(1)  Kent Minerals and Waste Development Framework Statement of Public Involvement 2011 can be found at


 Local Government Association Probity in Planning 2010 p7

 Text of Ian Driver’s letter to Sharon Thompson

Dear Ms Thompson

I am writing to express my concern about the management of the consultation process for the exploratory gas drilling planning applications at Guston, Tilmanstone and Shepherdswell.

It is my view that the Planning Authority has failed to adhere to its own guidance as set out in the Kent Minerals and Waste Development Framework Statement of Public Involvement 2011. This failure is of a sufficiently serious magnitude to justify the termination of the current consultation process and for you to begin a new one, which accords more fully with the Statement.
According to Paragraph 4.2 and Policy 6 of the Statement of Public Involvement, your department must encourage “applicants of potentially controversial proposals to engage with the relevant communities as early as possible and subsequently demonstrate how they have responded to the issues raised”.

I am sure you will agree that these applications are extremely controversial, but I am unaware that Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd have engaged, to any meaningful degree, with the local communities concerned. To the best of my knowledge, this company has not set up public meetings at Guston, Tilmanstone or Shepherdswell at which they have presented  their plans to residents, answered questions and taken into account any comments or proposals.
I would be grateful if you could provide me with evidence (e-mails, meeting records etc) that your officers made genuine efforts to implement this policy. Please provide me with evidence (e-mails, meeting records etc.) of how your officers managed any resistance or refusal by the applicant to engage with the communities concerned.

According to KCC’s Planning website, a notice of the planning applications was published in the Kent on Sunday newspaper on 15.09.2013. Policy 7 and Para 4.4.1 of the Statement of Public Involvement requires that the application is published in local newspaper(s).  The editorial of Kent on Sunday on 21st September described itself as a “county newspaper” and Wikipedia describes Kent on Sunday as a “regional newspaper”.
It would therefore appear that in placing the planning notice in Kent on Sunday on 15th September you have acted contrary to your Statement of Public Involvement, which requires the notice to be published in a local newspaper(s). Could you please advise me whether any notices of application have been published in local newspapers and, if so, in which publications. If such notices were published after the 15th September, then I assume that you will alter the consultation timetable accordingly.

Paragraph 4.4.9 of the Statement of Public Involvement states that, depending upon the nature of a planning applicant, you may sometimes exceed statutory consultation requirement by notifying all local residents rather than just adjoining neighbours of a planning application. I would argue that the controversial nature of the applications at Guston, Shepherdswell and Tilmanstone merit the application of this discretionary power. Please provide me with evidence (e-mails, meeting notes etc) to demonstrate that consideration was given to notifying all local residents about these applications and evidence as to why it was decided not to do this.
Para 4.5.5 of the Statement of Public Involvement states that in the case of controversial applications, or applications which have a high level of interest from the local community, a “public meeting may be arranged”. I am sure you will agree that these three applications are extremely controversial but I am unaware of your having made any arrangements to hold public meetings at Guston, Shepherdswell or Tilmanstone. Could you please inform me whether it is your intention to hold public meetings at each of these locations?

Even if you do, belatedly, decide to hold public meetings, I feel that the time required to organise them and notify residents means that they will be held very close to the consultation deadline, which will be extremely unfair to residents.     

Finally, test drilling for gas is a very complex and technical issue. I am very surprised therefore that the Planning Authority appears to have failed to provide democratically elected consultees and decision makers, at parish, district and county level, with any background briefing or training so that they can make informed comment on behalf of their constituents.
I was at the Shepherdswell Parish Council meeting last week and no planning officer was present to provide advice to councillors. I understand that no planning officer was present at the Guston or Tilmanstone  Parish Council meetings either. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, all 3 parish councils have decided not to make formal comment to KCC about these applications because they feel that the information provided by KCC has been insufficient.

The Local Government Association, of which KCC is a member, recommends in its Guide for New Councillors 2013-14 and its 2010 publication, Probity in Planning, that because planning is a complex and changing area, councillors must be specially trained and that this training should be supplemented with special briefing sessions on planning issues which may be technical or controversial, such as those at Guston, Shepherdswell or Tilmanstone.
I have found no evidence to demonstrate that KCC, in partnership with Dover District Council, have made any effort whatsoever to provide parish, district or county councillors with special briefings to help them understand the issues involved before they make formal comments about, or decisions on, these applications.

I am extremely disappointed that the Planning Authority appears, in relation to these three applications, to have clearly disregarded its own guidance on public involvement in the planning process and to have ignored the advice of LGA about providing training and briefing sessions for councillors commenting or deciding on complex planning issues. This is particularly worrying when the nature of the three applications concerned is taken into account.

I trust that, in light of my comments, you will now begin a new and proper consultation process and initiate a programme of councillor briefings, otherwise I will have no option but to take this matter to the Local Government Ombudsman on the grounds of maladministration and injustice.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely
Councillor Ian Driver
The Green Party
Thanet istrict Council 

 

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