Ministers to decide on gas plan for Airth

Land around Letham Moss could be home to over 20 drilling rigs like this one
Land around Letham Moss could be home to over 20 drilling rigs like this one

Controversial plans to drill for commercial quantities of coal bed methane gas under land near Airth have taken another twist.

Scottish Government-appointed Reporters were due to report on their findings after a public inquiry earlier this year into Dart Energy’s appeal for planning permission for its CBM development at Letham Moss later this month.

But what Karen Heywood and David Buylla – senior members of the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals – were likely to decide after the hearing, such as asking for more details and considering the evidence provided by experts from both sides of the argument between March 18 and April 16, will now only be noted by their bosses – because the Scottish Government has announced it will have the final say.

The first public inquiry in the UK into a planning application for unconventional gas extraction stretched to four weeks and covered four inquiry sessions, five hearing sessions and two days of summing up. It heard evidence from over 50 witnesses including geologists, hydrogeologists, biological scientists, professional drillers, professors, doctors, town hall planners, councillors and community councillors.

But on Friday the Scottish Government announced it has recalled the planning appeals lodged by Dart last year on the grounds of non-decision by Falkirk and Stirling councils.

A statement said: “In line with the government’s cautious, considered and evidence based approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland Ministers will now take the decision.”

Planning Minister Derek Mackay MSP said: “The decision has been taken in light of the considerable public interest in the proposals as well as its relevance to the implementation of the recently updated Scottish Planning Policy. Scottish Ministers therefore believe there is a national interest that would be best served by further scrutiny of these proposals.”

A government spokesman confirmed: “Decisions on planning appeals are usually made by Reporters from the DPEA. However, Ministers have powers to recall any planning appeal for their own decision but would only do so if there are particularly sensitive issues or matters of national importance involved. In these cases, following consideration of all relevant matters, the Reporter produces a report, containing a recommendation as to whether the appeal should be upheld or dismissed.

“On receipt of the report, Scottish Ministers will give consideration to the Reporters’ recommendations and will issue their decision.”

A spokesman for Dart Energy said: “The proposed project is environmentally and visibly low impact, but a valuable national asset for Scotland and it is only to be expected that the Minister has called in the Reporters decision. The call-in by Ministers is often part of the planning process and we respect that decision.

“Coal bed methane is a natural gas recovered from unmined deep underground coal seams which, with limited treatment, can be fed into the National Grid for supply to homes or businesses or directly to an industrial user. A successful coal bed methane project in Airth will provide significant economic and social benefits to Scotland.”