Local pressure group ‘Worthing Against Fracking’ reacted angrily today (Friday October 17th) to West Sussex County Council (WSCC) failing to declare the County a ‘Frack Free Zone’.
A petition arranged by Peter O’Donoghue of ‘Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green’ calling on West Sussex County Council to declare West Sussex a ‘Frack Free Zone was presented to Full Council this morning for debate.
Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport Mr Pieter Montyn responded for WSCC and after taking legal advice recommended the council took a neutral position neither supporting or being against the petition.
Mr Montyn reasoned each planning decision must be judged on its own merits and the Council cannot pre-determine whether a planning application will be permitted or refused.
In the words of the briefing note prepared by officers: “The Committee could not be ‘bound’ by general policies as it must make decisions within the broader legal framework and its discretion cannot lawfully be fettered in advance.
“Having such a policy could suggest that the Committee members were predetermined on decisions involving fracking and undermine the validity of those decisions. This could lead to judicial reviews and appealed decisions, incurring costs against the County Council and effectively passing planning decisions to the Planning Inspectorate.”
Mr Montyn added that to vote against the petition could also signal a pre-determination that WSCC was in principle against fracking.
The Cabinet Member proposed a vote to not take a position on the petition which was carried overwhelmingly with six members voting against and three abstaining. All Worthing members present voted for the proposition with the exception of Cllr Robin Rogers who abstained. No Worthing members spoke during the debate.
Reacting to the decision Chairman of Worthing Against Fracking, Steve Nethercott-Cable said: “Instead of defending the Sussex countryside and protecting the health of Sussex citizens, today West Sussex County Council chickened and chose to support the ‘vested interests’ option by giving a big symbolic green light and permission for the Ecocidal Fracking Industry to destroy Sussex countryside.
“There is nothing safe about fracking – look at recent aquifer pollution incidents in California for example. It is now completely obvious WSCC values its own millions of investment in fracking companies above that of its citizens. No doubt PM Cameron has also leaned heavily on WSCC to ‘toe the line’ and back his obsessive shale gas madness.”