For information and members’ questions.
The report includes a recommendation from the Environment and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee requesting that a letter be sent to the Secretary of State relating to the extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons in Gloucestershire.
a) Exploration for unconventional hydrocarbons
Cllr Rob Bird, Chair of the Environment and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, presented the recommendation from the committee meeting held on 13 January 2016. He noted that since the original motion was referred to the committee the national position had changed. He said that a small majority of committee members had requested that the matter be referred back to Council with a recommendation that a letter be sent to the Secretary of State requesting that the process for exploring for unconventional hydrocarbons be halted in Gloucestershire. Some members were mindful that the Council was the statutory minerals planning authority. Those members believed that it was unwise for the Council to express a view at the present time.
Cllr Nigel Moor, the Chair of the Planning Committee, stated that the matter required some careful thought as there was a risk that members supporting the recommendation might be viewed as predetermining the issue. He said that members could be viewed as having a closed mind. A fundamental principle of the planning process was that all the evidence including the views of the public should be considered at the time of the application.
A number of members believed that it was right and proper for the Council to listen to the views of the public and send a message to the Government which recognised their concerns. They noted that they were not considering an individual application and they could not see why the Council could not comment on an issue which was of such significance to local people.
One member said that the extraction of hydrocarbons was a known cause of climate change, an issue which was of fundamental importance to national security.
Another member stated that exploration to find out what was present was very different to the extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons. He failed to see an issue with taking steps to explore what was there.
Other members questioned the value of writing to the Secretary of State. They remained concerned about the danger of predetermination, not only for individual planning applications but also in respect of approval of the Minerals Local Plan. They were anxious that members were able to determine matters locally. To do that they needed to be able to show that they approached decisions with an open mind. Making statements ahead of the decision making process might open the Council up to legal challenge including judicial review.
Responding to a request for advice, the Head of Legal Services advised that members needed to satisfy themselves that they could approach the decision making process with an open mind and consider the evidence presented in an objective way. She said that it was a matter for individual members to decide whether they wished to participate in the debate or reserve their right to comment until they were required to make decisions on individual applications or the Minerals Local Plan.
On being put to a recorded vote, it was
RESOLVED that Gloucestershire County Council sends a letter to the Secretary of State requesting that the process of exploring for unconventional hydrocarbons in Gloucestershire be halted.
The voting was as follows:
For (21): Cllrs David Brown, Chris Coleman, Iain Dobie, Bernard Fisher, Jasminder Gill, Joe Harris, Colin Hay, Jeremy Hilton, Paul Hodgkinson, Barry Kirby, Richard Leppington, Sarah Lunnon, Steve Lydon, Tracy Millard, Graham Morgan, Brian Oosthuysen, Alan Preest, Klara Sudbury, Simon Wheeler, Lesley Williams and Suzanne Williams
Abstentions (26): Cllrs Phil Awford, Dorcas Binns, Rob Bird, Tony Blackburn, Jason Bullingham, Dr John Cordwell, Andrew Gravells, Tim Harman, Mark Hawthorne, Tony Hicks, Steve McHale, Paul McLain, Patrick Molyneux, Nigel Moor, Shaun Parsons, Nigel Robbins, Brian Robinson, Vernon Smith, Ray Theodoulou, Brian Tipper, Pam Tracey, Robert Vines, Stan Waddington, Kathy Williams, Roger Wilson and Will Windsor-Clive
b) Stroud General Hospital
Cllr Sarah Lunnon expressed concern regarding recent closures of the minor injuries unit at Stroud General Hospital. She asked whether the Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee could look at this issue.
In response, Cllr Iain Dobie, the committee chair, recognised the importance of the issue but said that there was a formal process for raising items. He said that he would speak to Cllr Lunnon outside the meeting to determine the best approach.
RESOLVED that the scrutiny report be noted.