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Canonbie residents this week made their case to Scotland’s Planning boss and were told that their experience would influence future policy.


Bill and Loraine Frew met Chief Planner John McNairney after a request from Joan McAlpine MSP who has been backing their campaign against coal bed methane extraction in the scenic village.


The Scottish Government last month announced a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction until a full public consultation is held and the views of communities heard.  


The Canonbie residents demanded to know why 19 boreholes for methane extraction in Canonbie were treated as separate minor developments while an identical plan at Airth triggered a full Public Inquiry.


They also told the Chief Planner and his staff of considerable local concerns at the power and Influence wielded by Buccleuch Estates, who are a partner in the development, but not listed as the planning applicant. This issue is of particular concern to many local people, as Buccleuch were party to meetings with Dumfries and Galloway Council, and ‘fronted’ many of the public meetings, which the developer DART Energy (now Igas) did not attend.


The Frews told Mr McNairney that the wells in Canonbie were situated next to Buccleuch tenants who received most neighbourhood notifications but who, it is claimed, would be reluctant to speak out against the powerful landlord. It was suggested that anonymity be given to individuals in such circumstances.


Joan McAlpine MSP said:


“I was reassured to hear that the Frews and the Canonbie experience will be taken into account as we look at how to deal with unconventionals, though of course a great many people hope that the moratorium will be extended indefinitely. However, from what the Chief Planner was saying it did sound like there would never be a repeat of the Canonbie experience where planning permission was given without the scrutiny of elected councillors.


“There was clearly something wrong with policy in 2009 and 2013 when planning permission was granted and what we now need to establish is whether new tougher rules recently introduced will prevent another Canonbie.  For example, treating all applications for unconventional extraction as major developments is vital to ensure that the rules on buffer zones introduced through NPF3 and SPP will kick in”.


Mr Frew said:


“On behalf of the Residents Association of Canonbie &District, we would like to thank the Chief Planner and his staff for the opportunity to raise our concerns directly with them.


“The issues here included multiple failed boreholes, and serious failings by every regulatory agency, either to protect this community, or to demonstrate any evidence of joined-up activity before Planning consent was granted or renewed.


“We remain convinced that unless these fundamental inadequacies are addressed, communities will justifiably reject any claims that Robust regulatory frameworks will protect them from the risks posed by unconventional gas extraction.”


Pictured, from left to right: Joan McAlpine MSP, Loraine Frew, Scottish Government Chief Planner John McNairney, and Bill Frew.