Has the penny finally dropped for Mr Menzies?
On this site I have been critical of the stance adopted by our MP Mark Menzies on fracking. He has in my opinion, been far too ready to accept bland reassurances of gold standard and robust regulation, and his self-congratulation in getting UKOOG instead of the independent regulator he said was necessary was quite bizarre to watch.
His allowing Cuadrilla to use his image in its publicity was also questionable.
However, this week he seems to have suddenly acquired a backbone and started to ask questions of the government which might be seen to be critical of the government’s actions in overruling the planning inspector’s report.
In written questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government on 21st November he asked:
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, with reference to his decision to reopen the planning inquiry into the highways safety aspects of Cuadrilla Resources’ appeal against Lancashire County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission to build shale gas wells at its Roseacre Wood site, whether the analysis supporting his decision differs from that of the inspector concerned on any matter of fact mentioned in or otherwise material to a conclusion reached by that inspector in that case; and what new evidence or new matter of fact he has taken into consideration on the highways safety aspects of that case that has informed his decision to reopen the planning inquiry.
He eventually received this (rather unsatisfactory) reply from Gavin Barwell Comptroller (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Commons), Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)
Full reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in the decision letter that was published on 6 October 2016.
In reaching his decision, the Secretary of State took into account the wide range of relevant issues that were raised and evidence that was put forward in this appeal, as well as the detailed findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Planning Inspector who held a public inquiry.
The decision letter and the Inspector’s Report are available at:
He also asked
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, how many times the power he has under section 17(7) of the Town and Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000/1624 to reopen a planning inquiry has been exercised by him and his predecessors to allow an appellant to adduce further evidence in its favour since the introduction of those rules.
Mr Barwell also responded to this, no more satisfactorily.
The Secretary of State has the power to re-open a public inquiry as he thinks fit, for example if he considers that would be the best way to allow parties to put forward any further evidence and for parties to respond to any such evidence. No records are kept of how frequently that has occurred.
He also asked the Department of Health
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, with reference to the Director of Public Health for Lancashire’s report, published on 6 November 2014, into the Potential Public Health Impacts of the Proposed Shale Gas Exploration Sites in Lancashire, how many of the 61 recommendations in that report his Department has acted on; and which of those recommendations have not been acted on by his Department and why.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, with reference to the Public Health England report entitled Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of the Shale Gas Extraction Process, published in January 2014, how many of the recommendations made in that report his Department has acted on; and which recommendations have not been acted on by his Department and why.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what his Department’s assessment is of the potential implications of drilling for shale gas for the health of residents living in close proximity to shale gas well sites.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what steps he has taken to estimate the number of residents living in close proximity to Cuadrilla Resources’ shale gas well at Preston New Road who have pre-existing health conditions potentially susceptible to aggravation by drilling for shale gas.
We understand that it is likely that these questions on health are likely the result of a presentation given to him before the APPG on fracking meeting by Dr Frank Rugman recently.
To the Department of Business , Energy and Industrial Strategy he asked
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he has taken to undertake baseline monitoring of the health of residents living in close proximity to Cuadrilla Resources’ shale gas well site at Preston New Road.
which received the following reply from Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) highlights that the first point of contact on population health and well-being issues should be the Director of Public Health (DPH), and recommends that Local Authority planners should consider consulting the DPH on any planning applications that are likely to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of the local population or particular groups within it. The role of the DPH is to provide expert advice and support, with an aim to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of the population. DPHs are able to seek expert advice and support from Public Health England in responding to such planning applications, where necessary, including support for the investigation of any pre-existing health concerns.
The DPH at Lancashire County Council (LCC) commissioned a rapid health impact assessment of the shale gas exploratory stage, specifically the proposed sites at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road, which included an assessment of the baseline health profile for residents within the Warton and Westby ward of the Fylde district.
We note that the report commissioned refers to a high level baseline survey but stated that “a robust baseline and long term monitoring of environmental and health conditions is required in order to reassure communities and to understand the cumulative and long term effects.” and “34.1. It is apparent that a variety of environmental baseline data will be collected by the Applicant and required by various agencies before any activity starts on the sites. There is no similar requirement for measuring health impacts on the communities living in the vicinity of the sites. It is not known how data from various sources measuring operating standards, environmental and health conditions will be collated, analysed and shared with the public.
We think Mr Menzies should ask for more information and have written to him suggesting this.
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he has taken to institute baseline monitoring sites for air quality in residential areas in close proximity to Cuadrilla Resources’ shale gas well site at Preston New Road.
Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)responded:
The Department currently grant-funds a research consortium led by the British Geological Survey to deliver a baseline environmental monitoring programme in and around sites in the Fylde (Lancashire) where applications for shale gas wells have been made. As a result of this programme and since January 2015, researchers have been gathering data on a number of environmental parameters including air quality. The monitoring located close to the proposed shale gas exploration site at Little Plumpton (Preston New Road) includes instrumentation to measure atmospheric composition, wind speed and direction, air temperature and relative humidity.
The monitoring characterises the environmental baseline before any hydraulic fracturing takes place and enables future shale gas projects’ data to be checked against these “baseline” data, allowing any significant changes to be flagged for further scrutiny. The investigations are independent of any monitoring carried out by the industry or the regulators. The information collected is freely available to the public on the BGS website:
Mr Menzies asked 10 other questions in the same week, all of which received answers. None of the above questions have been answered at the time of writing according to the Parliament website. [We have now added the responses that have been provided]
In any event this new evidence of commitment to his constituents’ interests is a welcome development.
We look forward to reading the answers from the relevant departments.