The final milestone for North Shropshire.
The area around Dudleston is part of a drilling licence called PEDL185. The licence has a standard clause called the “drill or drop” clause that requires that a certain number of test drills be completed by a certain date, or else the licence has to be handed back to the Government. The deadline for Dart/IGas to complete the test drills is 30th June 2016 so unless there is an exceptional intervention, the licence will need to be handed back. 
It is important that we breathe a sigh of relief, however we must also be mindful and supportive of other people who are still going through the battles, many of whom have endured much more than we had to. Here follows a quick recap of the campaign, set into the context of some of the other big battles happening right now.
Just over two years ago, our happy outcome was a distant dream. We were all busily doing the research into whether or not CBM was a possible asset to the country/environment, or simply a foolish attempt to make a quick profit. We soon learned that the Government line about fracking being a “transition fuel to a greener future” was a complete lie because it is as damaging as burning coal. Also that clean energy solutions were possible, and probably for less money.
We learned that the geology of North Shropshire was completely unsuited to the technology, even if it had been environmentally sensible. A public exchange of letters with Dart indicated that they didn’t really understand the local geology considerations but were determined to press ahead anyway. There were huge numbers of well-written local objections, however the planning department recommended approval of the application, despite the weight of evidence to the contrary.
Thankfully we have some excellent county councillors in North Shropshire who were willing to listen to the evidence and to defy their planning officers. Of particular note is our local councillor Steve Davenport who did his homework and took a prominent stance against the application. The councillors in Lancashire were similarly courageous in dealing with their fracking applications but sadly, more recently, the councillors representing Ryedale in Yorkshire voted 7:4 in favour of a fracking application there.
After the Dudleston planning decision came the appeal for which we benefited from some expert legal assistance from Friends of the Earth. With their help the appeal was upgraded to a full scale public inquiry, and then IGas decided to withdraw. The two decisions in Lancashire are currently going through the public inquiry appeal process and the Inspector’s report is due on 4th July. The report will only be advisory because the final decision will be taken by central Government, much to the delight of the drilling companies.
Although it would be tempting to think that the Lancashire decision is a foregone conclusion in favour of drilling irrespective of evidence or democracy, it might not be that straightforward. The reasoning behind the decision will have to be legally watertight, otherwise it will be subjected to challenge by a Judicial Review. There was a lot of significant and powerful evidence presented during the inquiry hearings and it is not unusual for the Government to lose at JR.
At the time of our campaign there was a very relevant Government report looking at the social impact of fracking, including a calculation of the impact on house prices. It took an appeal to the Information Commissioner to get the full report released without redactions, but that was too late for us to use the information in our planning objections. Now there is another Government report that is being withheld. This one assesses the climate impact of fracking which would be very pertinent to the Lancashire decision. 
Coming back to the Dudleston campaign, we decided to apply for costs from IGas. Based on an analysis of the rules, plus the precedent of similar cases, it looked to be almost a guaranteed positive outcome for us. The intention was that we would refund the charitable group which had helped fund our campaign, as well as paving the way for other groups in a similar position as us to take action against the drilling companies. We also lobbied the council planning department to claim for costs because they’d had the expense of writing over 2000 notification letters as well as incurring costs in preparing their case.
By pursuing our claim, we obliged IGas to declare their situation more completely. Their letter to the Planning Inspector stated that when IGas took over Dart, they realised that Dart was wrong about the suitability of the geology and thus they needed to withdraw the application. Interestingly Dart’s claim that the gas under North Shropshire was extractable would have been part of the valuation of the company when IGas bought Dart, so one imagines that IGas wouldn’t have been overly impressed by later discovering that the geology was unsuitable.
Although costs decisions are supposed to always be taken by the Planning Inspectorate, the decision on the Dudleston costs was overruled by central Government and the decision was that costs would not be awarded. Their reasoning was that costs are almost always given if an appellant withdraws an appeal, but that they wouldn’t be awarded on this occasion. There was no supporting evidence for why they weren’t going to be awarded and we would probably have had an easy time had we pursued the case to a Judicial Review. We didn’t because the most valuable outcome was the letter from IGas saying that North Shropshire is safe from the threat of CBM exploration.
Given that the end of the licence may well be the final stage of the campaign in Dudleston, all that remains is to thank you for playing your essential part in a fantastic victory for democracy and common sense. We hope that our friends elsewhere in the country also get their happy endings.