Shropshire gas drilling appeal downgraded from an inquiry to a hearing

A two-day hearing will be held to consider plans to drill for gas in Shropshire.

Shropshire gas drilling appeal downgraded from an inquiry to a hearing

The procedure dealing with an appeal to operate an exploratory borehole for coal bed methane gas in Dudleston Heath, near Ellesmere, has been downgraded from a public inquiry.

The news means that while the appeal will still be held in public it will not go into as much detail as an inquiry, and evidence from interested parties won't be cross-examined.

The hearing is also less formal and will run for about two days – shorter than the inquiry which would have lasted at least three days.

Peter Rickett, a Planning Inspectorate spokesman, said: "The case has been reviewed by a senior inspector and careful consideration given to the way the appeal should proceed.

"We are of the view that although an oral event is required given the case has generated a large level of local interest, it does not warrant an inquiry and the appeal should proceed to a hearing.

"This will allow for relevant matters to be defined and considered by the inspector as well as allow interested parties the opportunity to put their views forward."

Applicants Dart Energy submitted an appeal over the length of time it took Shropshire Council to make a decision.

The appeal could have been looked at under any of the three processes – written representations, hearing or public inquiry.

It was originally going to be handled by the written representations procedure – the lowest and least complex of the three – before it was upgraded to a public inquiry. But after applicants Dart Energy called on the Planning Inspectorate to once again downgrade it to written representations, officials have decided to strike a balance and hold a hearing into the appeal.

Campaigners Frack Free Dudleston hoped for a detailed examination into the plans to help their case but, despite the downgrade, have welcomed the news it will still be held in public.

Leader of the Campaign group leader Chris Hesketh said: "I am still pleased that it is still going to be held in public and the public are able to attend.

"It would have been an insult not to have them involved in this. We will be able to speak at the hearing and put our case across. It means that we will not be an official party though.

"I want the process to get the right decision now – I would rather a long process and the right decision rather than a short process and wrong decision."

Energy company Dart Energy hopes to use the site in Ellesmere to operate an exploratory borehole to extract coal bed methane and insists it will not be extracting shale gas using the controversial method of fracking.

The date and venue has not yet been set for the hearing.

Gordon Grant, a spokesman for Dart Energy, said: "We are currently waiting to receive a timetable from the Planning Inspectorate and look forward to responding further. The application received no objections from statutory consultees and clearly establishes the operation would be carried out in an environmentally acceptable way, which was confirmed by the Planning Committee Report."

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