Row erupts over public speaking 'ban' at key fracking council meeting
The leader of Derbyshire County Council has said the authority is looking at ways to let members of the public speak at a key fracking meeting next week - after a letter was sent out stating they would not be allowed.
Chemical giant Ineos wants to build a rig up to 60m tall and drill around 2,400m below the ground on land off Bramley Moor Lane, Marsh Lane, near Eckington, to investigate the suitability of the rock for fracking.
The final decision will be taken by the Planning Inspectorate following a public inquiry this June, after Ineos appealed saying the county council was taking too long to decide whether or not to grant planning permission - something the authority denied.
On Monday, February 5, a meeting of the county council’s planning committee at County Hall in Matlock, which the public can attend, will take place and the authority will ‘take a position’ on the development, which will then be presented at the appeal.
But a notice states that no one outside the county council is being invited to speak before the committee.
The notice says: “This is because the application for planning permission for the development which this appeal is based on has ceased to be determinable by the council and the appeal is to proceed with a public inquiry.”
County councillor for Eckington and Killamarsh, Diane Charles, said: “It is appalling that the Conservatives are supporting Ineos in attempting to gag local people when they are aware of the massive local interest and concern.”
While Councillor Anne Western, leader of the Labour Group at Derbyshire County Council, said: “Unfortunately, this is the latest of a series of actions taken by the Conservatives at County Hall to restrict public participation. They have scrapped public questions at cabinet meetings, stopped the filming of council meetings and refused to answer legitimate questions from the public at the last full council meeting about the closure of the Hazelwood residential care home.”
And chairman of the Eckington Against Fracking group, David Kesteven, said: “We want to speak at Monday’s meeting and we are being denied that opportunity. We are a very well organised group and we have massive public support.
“It is important that this application should be refused on planning grounds alone.”
In response, Councillor Barry Lewis, leader of the county council said: “We are already looking at how we can allow public participation at this key meeting. We recognise that it is important to give the public an opportunity to have their say, as would be the case in any planning application, despite the matter being determined via an appeal process instigated by Ineos.
“The difficulty has been presented by the constitution of the planning committee that says when there is no determination to make, no public participation is required. Ironically it seems this position was previously established by Labour. We are also looking at live streaming the meeting into other areas of County Hall to accommodate members of the public should attendance be high and via the internet.
“The public can be assured, that despite what the letter issued last week says, Derbyshire Conservatives are looking at this with a view to overcoming this issue and allowing the public to have their say. Labour are clearly just trying to ride a bandwagon.”
Last week the county council said the cost of processing the application to the public stands at around Â£100,00 so far.
The public inquiry will be held on June 19 and last around eight days.