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COUNCIL: Major investigation after fracking consultation document was changed

TCI Commentary

The way we say things is important. In consultations, giving the right information can be critical and a quick glance at our legal case library reveals several occasions on which information presented incorrectly or inaccurately led to the overturning of its results. Most recently was a challenge to a call-in decision by Scottish Ministers in Perth and Kinross Council v Scottish Ministers. In this case, a council tried to argue that the school closure that was called in by the Ministers was not flawed, merely because some of the information in the consultation was inaccurate, or as they put it, ‘arguable’.

In this case in Fermanagh and Omagh, it looks like the Council might have been lucky and caught the errors quickly enough to halt the consultation process and investigate. The investigation should be an interesting one. There are a lot of questions to answer- who approved the incorrect wording? How was it drafted? And how was it not picked up earlier in the document production process? Although this Council managed to triage the damage before it led to a legal challenge, the case is a pertinent reminder to check your documents thoroughly and make sure that errors are excised. If you’re struggling, perhaps consider speaking to the Institute about our Quality Assurance process.

Article

A MAJOR internal investigation has been launched within Fermanagh and Omagh District Council as it was acknowledged “a very significant error” has occurred in the wording of a document sent out for public consultation around fracking.

During a council meeting earlier this month, it emerged that parts of a document sent out for public consultation had been altered and did not reflect decisions which were unanimously agreed by members.

While it was initially believed this related to a single piece of text, it has since emerged that more errors have been found.

The issue falls within the Local Development Plan (LDP), which has spanned two different council mandates, bringing membership changes to the Steering Group, currently chaired by Councillor Robert Irvine, Ulster Unionist.

It was decided to halt the consultation process and to call a special meeting to discuss this, in depth.

That took place on Monday night, where it was revealed the issue has been considered so serious, a major audit review has been instigated to establish how this occurred, why, and by whom.

Previously, it was agreed the wording would state: “Council will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until it is proved that there would be no adverse effects on the environment or public health.”

However, the document sent out for consultation stated: “Council will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all associated impacts on the environment and human health.”

An in-depth review of the entire document identified three further inconsistencies.

Chief Executive Alison McCullagh advised: “We do acknowledge this is a very significant error which has undoubtedly impacted adversely on confidence in the process, both from [the] elected member perspective and the wider community.

“We have commenced a formal internal audit investigation… While it will deal with the inaccurate information, it is not suggested this will delay the council position.”

She warned that to protect the integrity of the process, any discussion on the investigation itself would be heard confidentially.

It was recommended to commence a new eight-week consultation, with a clarification statement accompanying the announcement of this in the media highlighting the inaccurate situation, and to include an apology for any concern.

Miss McCullagh added: “It’s apparent the arrangements in place for document oversight and control were not as robust as expected and, pending the outcome of the investigation, a temporary measure has been put in place for cross-checking and final assurance by the Head of Planning.”

Article originally appeared on The Impartial Reporter

The Institute cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.

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