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DERBYSHIRE: Council could lose decision-making powers

Derbyshire County Council's head office in Matlock
Derbyshire County Council's head office in Matlock

Planners fear being stripped of their powers to control mining schemes in Derbyshire.

It is because they have lost a planning appeal against a quarry project which they turned down – and face losing another over a fracking scheme.

If an applicant challenges a council decision to turn down its planning application, it can go to appeal, in a process potentially costing tens of thousands of pounds.

New regulations say that if an authority loses more than 10% of its appeals for major applications in a year, it could get its powers to decide planning matters taken away – and the Government would instead take over.

On March 15, planning permission was granted at appeal for P Casey Enviro Ltd to mine 180,000 tonnes of stone and aggregate from landfill site Arden Quarry in Birch Vale, near New Mills.

And the council is next facing an appeal against failing to grant engineering company Ineos permission for exploratory drilling in a fracking scheme near Chesterfield. Ineos said the council took too long to make a decision on the project.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Monday, (April 9), a planning officer said: “We are at risk of going into designation if we lose more than two appeals.”

Designation is where powers to decide on a scheme are designated to the Government.

The officer said: “Last month we lost an appeal which we had expected to win, we put a good case forward, so that is unfortunate, and we have the Ineos appeal coming up in June in Chesterfield.

“So now there is a very high risk of being placed into designation, it is unfair, but there is nothing we can do about it.

“We will be going to the Local Government Association (LGA) to get different rules.”

In the last 12 months the council fought two appeals, one of which it won, after refusing the Hilltop open cast mine at Clay Cross, with one loss  – the Arden Quarry application.

Meanwhile, on June 19, an up to eight-day public inquiry will start into an application to start exploratory drilling – which could lead to fracking (fracturing rock to release gas by pumping liquid underground) of shale gas – in a field off Bramleymoor Lane, near the village of Marsh Lane, six miles north of Chesterfield.

New government legislation, which includes the 10% rule relating to appeals, only came into action at the start of the year.

In these rules, local authorities can also have their powers stripped if too many applications are not processed in the statutory time period – up to 13 weeks for large or complex plans.

The county council does not process many applications – 57 minor, 37 major and three environmental impact assessments in the last 12 months.

Many of these applications were processed in the months before the start of 2018.

However, if a similar amount of applications are processed during 2018, it will be placed at risk of falling foul of the 10% rule if it loses many more.

Other local authorities, such as Derby City Council or Amber Valley Borough Council deal with hundreds or even thousands of applications each year.

The applications which the county council discusses are of a very specific few categories, largely for school expansions or rock, sand or mineral quarrying.

The Clay Cross appeal process cost the council £80,000 in external legal fees.

The authority claims that the Arden Quarry process did not cost the council any extra money, but took up staffing hours, the number of which it could not immediately reveal.

Last month, the county council lost an appeal which involved five-year plans to mine at Arden Quarry.

A Government inspector ruled that local policy which required a “proven need” was out of date, and overturned the county council’s decision.

Council officers felt it did not meet any “proven need” for sandstone or grit-stone aggregates and would not provide any net environmental benefit.

Chemical and oil manufacturing giant Ineos sought an appeal in December, prior to any council decision on its application, through the Government due to “unreasonable delays” with the planning process.

The county council planning committee later denied the application in February, against the recommendation of council officers, due to concerns over noise, increased traffic and the position of the proposed site in the Green Belt.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service