Cuadrilla appeal over Lancashire fracking refusal

Fracking protests at Lancashire County Council
Image caption Fracking protesters gathered outside Blackpool Football Club, where the hearing is taking place

An energy firm appealing against a decision to refuse fracking said the inquiry was not about the "rights or wrongs" of shale gas extraction.

Cuadrilla was refused permission to extract shale gas at the sites in Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood.

Lancashire County Council rejected both planning applications last year on the grounds of noise and traffic impact.

Cuadrilla disputed those reasons at the inquiry in Blackpool, but the council said it was "democracy in action".

Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - was suspended in the UK in 2011 following earth tremors in Blackpool, where Cuadrilla previously drilled.

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Nathalie Lieven QC, representing Cuadrilla, told the public inquiry night-time noise would be short and affect only a handful of homes.

At Roseacre, the traffic would be a maximum of 50 HGV movements a day for 12 weeks, she said.

"Self-evidently that process is controversial. However, this is not an inquiry into the rights or wrongs of shale gas extraction and how it relates to the UK's climate change obligations," Ms Lieven said.

Image copyright Kristian Buus/Greenpeace
Image caption About 30 Greenpeace activists were at Parliament Square to install a life-like rig as a protest

"Ultimately these are proposed developments where the government has stated that there is a national need, and where the planning impacts are very limited."

The hearing at Blackpool Football Club's conference suite was told the council turned down the planning application at Little Plumpton against the advice of planning officials.

Alan Evans, representing Lancashire County Council, suggested that was "local democracy in action".

At the scene

Mike Stevens, BBC Radio Lancashire

Activists on both sides of the debate gathered outside Bloomfield Road, each side - pro and anti-fracking - trying to make more noise than the other.

Chants of "Don't frack Lancashire" came from a crowd made up of local residents and members of environmental organisations, such as Friends of the Earth.

A group calling themselves Backing Fracking were among the pro-fracking group, whose members held placards with slogans like "Give shale a chance in Lancs". They told me they "believe Lancashire is for shale and will keep showing that".

Protesters later disappeared but the inquiry will go on for the next five weeks.

The government has decided Communities Secretary Greg Clark will make the final decision because the proposals are "of more than local significance".

A government spokesman said: "Local communities remain fully involved in planning decisions over any shale application - whether decided by councils or government - and strict planning rules that ensure shale development happens only at appropriate sites remain unchanged."

Image caption Pro-fracking supporters were among those gathered outside the hearing

Ahead of the hearing, pro and anti-fracking protesters gathered outside the football club.

Jasber Singh, from Frack Free Lancashire, said: "We are not going to gain anything from fracking apart from air, noise, land and water pollution that's bad for our health and the health of the climate."

In London, Greenpeace activists installed a life-like 33ft (10m) fracking rig and drill at Parliament Square as a protest to coincide with the first day of the inquiry in Lancashire.

The move has prompted the term #Frackminster to trend on Twitter.

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