Vale of Glamorgan CBC – heroes to villains in test drilling battle?

I have just completed two very long and mentally exhausting days at the Llandow Test Drilling Public Inquiry.

Given my state of mental fatigue, I may not be in the best of minds to rationalise what has just gone on, but I feel obliged to post something before endeavouring to forget about the whole issue for a while at least.

Having previously gone on record as praising the Vale Planning Committee for their courage in taking a historic decision in rejecting the application (https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/historic-decision-by-vale-council-to-reject-shle-gas-test-drilling/) it now pains me and saddens me that they have so completely mishandled the matter that they felt the need to totally capitulate at the Public Inquiry.

This is what appears to have happened:

Through the Scrutiny Committee Meeting and loads of written representations, a comprehensive case against the test drilling application led to the unanimous verdicts of both Scrutiny and Planning Committees against the proposal. However, presumably on the guidance of their Planning Officers – who had recommended approving the application – they couched their rejection as being purely on the basis of the evidence of Welsh Water’s expressed concerns over possible groundwater contamination. This was their big mistake. There were, indeed still are, plenty of other material considerations, many of which I have consistently suggested are more telling than this groundwater issue, which could, and should have been included as additional grounds for refusal. It was immediately obvious that there would be an appeal put in. Had it been more thoroughly rejected, it is possible, given the overwhelming public opposition, that Coastal Oil & Gas may have at least thought twice about appealing.

What happened next really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Welsh Water, after some ‘dialogue’ with Coastal Oil & Gas, withdrew their opposition and declared that they would not participate in the Public Inquiry (Appeal). I again presume that the Planning Officers were instrumental in advising the Planning Committee how to respond to this development. Their line of thinking appears to have been that, given that the only cited grounds for rejection had melted away, they could be on very dodgey ground with the Planning Inspector, and possibly at risk of facing a large costs bill from the appellants. With an election for their seats imminent, the Planning Committee appear to have bottled sticking to their convictions in favour of ‘defending the budget’ and adopting a damage limitation strategy. In these times of budget cuts all over the place, I guess I can understand how this may have seemed like acting in their ‘constituents best interests’ (in other words, serving in their own best interests in terms of getting re-elected).

In essence, they moved away from a decision based on participatory democracy at its best (local heroes), to a politically expedient decision based on purely financial considerations (‘merchant bankers’!).

Their opening statement to the Public Inquiry ripped my guts out. Not only were they not going to defend their original decision, but they were now saying that, subject to conditions, they were now prepared to approve the application and come to an arrangement over costs. At that point in time it seemed like the whole thing was going to be a fait accompli and we would be done by lunchtime.

However, chinks of light in the gathering gloom soon started to appear. Inspector Emyr Jones made it clear that he was still prepared to listen to the quite extensive list of witnesses that had come prepared for the fray. I sought, and got, assurances from him that it was still within his power to uphold the original decision to reject the application, and it was game on.

I do not propose to give a blow by blow account of events, but save to say I think it would be fair to say the following:

  • Coastal Oil & Gas’ two ‘expert’ witnesses’ testimony was riddled with errors, inconsistencies, and thinly veiled deceits
  • Their motives, and thereby the value of their assurances about anything, are, at the very least, questionable
  • Their noise survey was fundamentally flawed
  • Their ecological survey was held in contempt by several witnesses including Friend of the Earth Cymru and myself
  • Their citing of a handful of convenient clauses in Development Plans and Planning Policies was overwhelming outweighed by dozens of such clauses that support the decision to reject the application – allied to the complete lack of any reference to this fundamentally new type of industry (for the Vale) in the Development Plans
  • Although the Planning Committee may have capitulated, all other sources of opposition have remained firm – meaning the overwhelming public will in the Vale of Glamorgan remains for this industry to have absolutely no role in their vision of the Vale’s future.

But will all this be enough to sway the Inspector’s verdict our way?

I simply don’t know. I feel pretty sure that he came into this Public Inquiry thinking it was a pretty straightforward case. Given the chief protagonists opening positions, it was bound to go the appellant’s way, I suspect he thought. Two day’s later, I think we have at least succeeded in giving him serious pause for thought. In actual fact, I don’t envy him his task one little bit. There are going to be far reaching ramifications whatever he decides – and I doubt he expected that when he took this case on. It is always easy to be cynical about politically appointed Inquiry chairs, especially after their verdicts. So let me say here and now that he conducted the Inquiry impeccably and I believe his verdict will be properly considered and have to be accepted which ever way it falls.

What happens next?
The Public Inquiry is not quite complete yet. There will be a site visit on MONDAY 11th JUNE at 1.30pm.
This is open to the public to attend – but not to submit additional evidence. The purpose is to allow those of us that have given evidence the opportunity to show him things we referred to in our evidence to date.
He has until the end of JULY to issue his verdict, but has declared that he does not envisage having to take anywhere near that long. It is still going to be weeks rather than days.

Of course, whatever the verdict, whether the battle is won or lost, the war goes on. We will prevail sooner or later – there is no other option. Keep the faith!

10 thoughts on “Vale of Glamorgan CBC – heroes to villains in test drilling battle?

  1. Nora smith

    God…you really do go on don’t you.. You took all day and said nothing..talk about being long winded…..!

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    1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

      Hi Nora,
      With your email address being letsfrack@gmail, I guess you mean I said nothing you wanted to hear.
      I don’t recall you standing up and say anything at all publicly. If you would like to engage in the issues, then fine. Otherwise, frack off! (Short enough and to the point enough for you?)

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  2. Lee Morrison

    Hi . It seems to me that the Green party are anti everything. This industry is going to happen and it is a reality. Everybody wants it to be done with minimum impact on the enviroment, but is is a important to the country that this natural resourse is exploited for the national good.
    Deals are being done , wheels are turning, Solar and wind have proved to be too expensive. It is now the time of cheap energy…you cant turn back the tide.. its time to accept this . SAVE THE WHALES .

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    1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

      Hi Lee, You seem to have bought into the old fashioned hype as to what we stand for. It is all about perspective. You seem anti a hell of a lot too – anti providing a legacy we can be proud of, rather than a toxic one that will shame us; anti a world of virtually free, safe energy that is being denied us by vested interests (https://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/a-new-age-of-enlightenment/); anti a prudent long term strategy in favour of the quick buck; and so on and so on.
      If you can be bothered to go through this blog, alongside plenty of things we are anti, you will find plenty of things we are very much FOR, including: ecosocilaism, technological solutions, human dignity, participatory democracy, investment in jobs, local food, bees, equal opportunities, etc.
      Why not take a proper look at everything we are in favour of (http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/) and then come back with your own informed opinion. It may not be much different, but it will be better than trotting out lazy stereotypes.

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  3. Karin

    Firstly I congratulate Andy on “speaking all day” and making an admirably thorough job of it. He addressed what needed addressing
    and worked in a professional and concise way. Lee and Nora are making lazy tired old attacks that bear no relevance to the enquiry.
    Sad….

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    1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

      Thank you for this, Karin. You have lifted my spirits after feeling pretty deflated for the last couple of days. It has been a long and time consuming slog to get to this point, so your appreciation is very welcome. Thank you again.
      Despite having the odds stacked against us – and even if we lose the verdict – I still believe it is unlikely that they will ever drill at that site.

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      1. Karin

        You are most welcome Andy. Obviously I hope the verdict is overturned, I think we gave them quite a run for their money! I’m curious to know why you think it unlikely they will ever drill there if it isn’t…

        Best wishes.

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      2. Andy Chyba

        The freeholder of the land, John Winslade of LEL properties and Ledley Engineering, has confirmed that it is not in the terms of the lease to permit drilling on the site, and is thought to be steadfast in wanting this upheld. I also do not beleive that Coastal Oil & Gas have the resources to drill here, so they will probably try to sell off their interest here. The combination of the public controversy, some restrictive conditions, changing attitudes to the whole industry at Government level, on top of the lease restrictions, may make it hard for Coastal Oil & Gas to pass it on – especially after they sold on a bit of a dud not so long ago.

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  4. Karin

    How interesting!!! Didn’t COaG check the terms of the lease? I got the impression they were an amateur, cowboy outfit (to put it politely). Here’s hoping John will stick to his guns. The change of attitude to the industry at Government level at this point in time is positive and I hope this stance will gather momentum.

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