Anti-fracking campaigners await the outcome of a historic council decision today, which may pave the way for fracking in Nottinghamshire.
Wildlife Trust experts hoped a last minute plea would provoke councillors to stop an IGas plan to explore for shale gas in its tracks.
Nottingham County Council's planning committee met on Wednesday, October 5 to decide the outcome of the plan, to 'develop a hydrocarbon wellsite and drill up to two exploratory hydrocarbon wells (one vertically and one horizontally) by use of drilling rig together with associated ancillary works' - the first such plan seen in the county.
Officers recommended for approval and at the time of publication the debate was still ongoing.
With limited legal arguments against the application it is expected the plan will be granted.
Island Gas would be allowed to explore the potentially lucrative Bowland Shale beneath Nottinghamshire, giving them permission to drill full wells, and then suspend drilling to assess results before decommissioning the site. The company would have to acquire further permission to exploit the well for commercial extraction.
At the meeting, planning officers told councillors that both Natural England and the Environment Agency could find legally sound reasons to oppose the plans, with only minimal risks to floodplains and the nearby SSSI at Misson Training Ground.
The entire development would take three years and drilling itself would last nine months, with up to 30 HGVs coming and going from the site each day, transporting machinery and disposing of 3,700 tonnes of drill cuttings.
Campaigners at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said they had 'longstanding concerns' about the proposals for two exploratory hydrocarbon wells at the site, known locally as The Rocket Site, due to the proximity of the application area to the nature reserve. The charity believes that activities are likely to cause disturbance to nesting populations of protected birds and have a damaging impact on the site’s sensitive ecology by disrupting water levels.
After receiving legal advice from Friends of the Earth’s Rights & Justice Centre the trust believes drilling activities would breach a longstanding restrictive covenant which applies to both the proposed drilling site and the nature reserve.
Wildlife supporters were hoping the protection can make them immune to IGas's local plan, but extenuating circumstances will have to be shown
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Head of Conservation, Janice Bradley, said: “Whilst we have long objected to these proposals and are preparing to raise our concerns at the planning meeting scheduled for Wednesday we were very recently informed that both the proposed drilling site and our nature reserve are subject to a legal covenant which prevents noisy, noxious or damaging activity.
"The covenant also restricts activities that are considered to cause annoyance. Having received legal counsel confirming that the covenant is valid we felt it was vital that we bring this to the attention of the developer, IGas Energy Plc and Nottinghamshire County Council ahead of the planning meeting.”
But planning officer Jonathan Smith said the covenant can't protect the site.
He said: "The proposed development would have a temporary effect on the SSSI. However Natural England found these impacts would not affect the overall integrity. On this basis they have not opposed the proposed development.
"The recommendation is for approval."
Councillors are told to consider the report only on the basis of mineral exploration, not actual shale fracking - but Coun Alan Sissons questions this.
He said: "This application has got nothing to do with fracking, we are told, however the application itself. This application isn't a sustainable development. It only becomes a sustainable development if you add an 'if'.
"It makes reference to mineral extraction. I didn't think this had anything to do with mineral extraction."
Councillors were at loggerheads with the planning officerover the protection of nature from activities on the site.
Cllr Sue Saddington said: "Janice (Bradley, of Notts Wildlife Trust) has said that a temporary problem could be quite severe - birds could fly away and not come back.
"I can't hand on heart say that that SSSI will be protected."
Officer Jonathan Smith repeated: "If Natural England had any doubt they would have submitted an objection."
Protesters claim Island Gas has no 'social licence' to frack in Misson Springs, as 98.6 per cent of those involved in consolidation were against the plan - that's 2,624 compared to only six people who were in favour.
However, Conservative Government rules to encourage the passing of shale applications make it very hard for councils to legally uphold decisions against the industry.
Campaigner for Bassetlaw Against Fracking and Frack Free Notts, Greg Hewitt said: "I think this will be really important, it's sets the precedent. Each application has to be determined on each merit but this really does open the doors.
"Because this site is so important what with it being an ex-misile site, with un-exploded ordinance on the site and its 125m from a SSSI. If this site goes ahead it can really open the doors for future fracking."
Prior to the meeting IGas said it was 'pleased' that NCC planning officers had recommended approval of the plan in Misson Springs.
The company said: "IGas has addressed the wide range of questions, concerns and comments raised by NCC, statutory consultees and others. This work is reflected in the Planning Officer’s Report together with the planning conditions proposed.
As part of its commitment to open and transparent communications IGas has undertaken extensive community engagement alongside this application including setting up a community liaison group which was convened in June 2014."
"The Company will await the Councillors’ decision on this application on 5 October 2016."