Councillors in the Vale of Glamorgan have unanimously rejected an application to test drill for shale gas in the county.
Analysis by Andy Chyba
This represents a total vindication of the stance we have taken from the outset of this campaign back in January 2011.
It also represents a triumph for people power, with the local people of Llandow and the Vale being prepared to wrestle with the issues in order to understand them, and then go out and comprehensively win the arguments calmly, rationally and on merit. Louise Evans and the whole ‘Vale Says No!’ team have achieved far more than any political party could achieve in terms of raising awareness of the issues and getting people and, most importantly, the media to engage with the issues.
I would also like to acknowledge the very brave decision taken by the Vale Planning Committee this evening. 10 Conservatives, 5 Labour, 2 Plaid Cymru and 2 Independents make up this committee. To obtain a unanimous verdict is a stunning result, that ought reverberate around the nation. It is a sensational precedent, as I am pretty certain it is the very first time a shale gas test drilling application has been opposed anywhere in the UK.
The main line of argument that I feel has achieved this result is with regard to the lack of any regulatory regime designed specifically for this industry. This was conceded by Coastal Oil & Gas and the Environment Agency at the Scrutiny Committee Meeting on Monday. The Vale Councillors, including Leader Cllr Kemp, recognised that their approval of this industry could well be letting an evil genie out of the bottle with no way of effectively controlling it and no chance of getting it back in the bottle once it was out. They rightly realised that the Welsh Government and Westminster were effectively passing the buck and likely to make them the scapegoats when the inevitable calamities start to happen.
They also rightly recognised the sound logic behind our argument that test drilling applications should not be considered in isolation. They are simply the first step in an integrally linked set of stages to full production. If there is no chance of allowing subsequent stages, there is no point in allowing the first stage. History tells us that the other side will force through the counter-argument; that if you allow them to invest huge resources in stage one, you cannot waste all that investment by not allowing the subsequent stages. The Vale Councillors accepted this argument against the advice of their Planning Officer, whose tick box sheets presumably cannot cope with ‘big picture’ thinking.
These are messages that need to be delivered loud and clear to town halls across the land. The precedent has now been set. Councillors do not need to bow to the advice of their box ticking, rubber stamping Planning Officers. They can determine what is right and wrong by calling in evidence from people who know what they are talking about, rather than feign understanding and vote in accordance to the party line.
The Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee have struck a real blow for local democracy, and have proven themselves to be people of true integrity and with the strength to challenge the systems they are asked to operate within – systems designed to let the exploiters and developers to have it all their own way at our expense most of the time.
This decision will strengthen the campaigns against the many and varied threats represented by the frackers, not just in the Vale, but across the land.
The next big question is how will the Welsh Government and Westminster respond to this slap across the face for their complacency to date?
Analysis by Iolo AP Dafydd, BBC Wales environment correspondent
“Almost all councillors spoke of their fears about pollution if fracking for shale gas took place following a positive outcome to test drilling in Llandow.
Several said they felt the planning committee needed advice and guidance from the Welsh government as well as the UK government, because drilling for shale gas was of national importance.
Some councillors said they felt the Welsh government was passing the buck by insisting the councillors had enough power and control to make their own decision, whether that be test-drilling or possibly in future fracking for shale gas.
Most said they accepted there will be an appeal. Cliff Patten – a planning consultant for Coastal Oil and Gas – affirmed after the meeting it was likely.
Many councillors also felt a public inquiry was needed.”