The man in charge of planning at Dumfries and Galloway council has asked his staff to compile a comprehensive report on how decisions were reached to allow drilling for coalbed methane in the village of Canonbie.

Planning director Alistair Speedie took the action in response to a complaint from Joan McAlpine MSP.

Ms McAlpine is furious that councillors were by-passed in the decision making process which happened behind closed doors.

She wrote to the council chief executive Gavin Stevenson on behalf of her constituents in Canonbie, who fear that drilling will industrialise the village, cause pollution and damage tourism while creating very few jobs or community benefit.

Mr Stevenson asked Mr Speedie to respond to Ms McAlpine’s complaint.

“I very much welcome this instruction from Mr Speedie to his officials and hope it helps us get to the bottom of how these controversial decisions were made,” said Ms McAlpine

“Democracy was by-passed.  Obviously it should have gone to elected councillors. It is a major industrial development involving a mining technology never before tried in Scotland and which has been banned elsewhere in Europe until it is proved safe.

Ms McAlpine also questioned why the mining company claimed the 2008 consents were still valid when they covered a different method of extraction.

“You cannot acquire planning permission for one kind of mining and then expect it to cover a completely different type of mining, using different methods. That means the consents should be overturned and Dart must apply again.”

“An identical application by Dart to extract coalbed methane at Airth, near Falkirk, is now the subject of an independent inquiry.  Council officers there felt they were not technically competent to make a judgement on the new technology, which has caused protests all over the UK. Yet in Dumfries and Galloway it appears to have been waved through with no scrutiny at all!”

Ms McAlpine last month asked for a moratorium on unconventional gas exploration in Scotland until the Airth enquiry had reported.

Energy policy is reserved to the Westminster government who are enthusiastic about unconventional gas. 

But Ms McAlpine said:

“There’s a time and a place for everything but not Canonbie and not now.  This is a small rural village whose tourist industry would be destroyed.  Drilling will take place just yards from villagers homes. Coalbed methane produces huge amounts of toxic water and neither Dart not their partners in the Buccleuch estate have explained what will happen to this water.  There are also concerns about the flaring of methane and damage to soil, rivers and burns.

“The company say they do not intend to “frack” for the gas, a method which has caused considerable alarm and is linked to earthquakes.  However in Australia, we know that 40% of coalbed methane sites end up being fracked in order to extract the maximum amount of gas.

“With Scotland’s enormous strength in renewables, particularly marine energy and offshore wind, we have the potential to create thousands of skilled jobs in manufacturing and engineering – without damaging the environment.  We don’t need this gas, which will make the problems of global warming worse.  And in a surpreme irony, the villagers of Canonbie are not even on the gas grid!”


Note to Editors

Ms McAlpine raised questions about why officers took the decision to grant planning consents in 2008 under delegtated powers – meaning that councillors never got to consider the process.

Delegated powers are intended for uncontroversial schemes, and not for industrial developments.

The energy company applied for permission for each small gas well separately, meaning the application was not treated as a single industrial or mining project and their were no neighbour notifications. Yet 20 different sites have permission is a small area of Canonbie and Rowanburn, in many cased just yards from residents’ homes.