Government faces fracking challenge in High Court
Decision to overrule local council â€˜unlawful', argues anti-fracking group
The government is in the High Court this week to defend the legality of its decision to allow fracking in a Lancashire borough.
The case is being brought by Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) which is contesting the government’s decision to overturn Lancashire County Council’s ban on fracking at a site in Fylde.
In June 2015, the council refused planning permission to oil and gas exploration firm Cuadrilla to use a site off Preston New Road for fracking. Cuadrilla appealed the decision, and following a public inquiry, was recommended for approval by an inspector. This was confirmed by the secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid MP, in October 2016.
PNRAG argue that the government’s decision to overrule Lancashire County Council was unlawful because it failed to properly apply relevant planning laws and policy.
The residents’ group wrote to Javid in October 2016 requesting the government reconsider its decision but this was refused. PNRAG’s lawyers, Leigh Day, have applied for a statutory review of the decision under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Death of democracy?
PNRAG is made up of a group of Fylde residents who came together in opposition to Cuadrilla’s plans to ‘frack’ for shale gas in the area, which began in January.
A spokesperson from PNRAG said: ‘We have consistently fought through legal process to have the voice of local residents heard. The voice of our community was loud and strong; it said ‘no’ to fracking.
‘Local democracy which said “no” was overturned by the secretary of state in Westminster. He has not visited or engaged with the communities that will be affected to understand the real impacts of his decision. Is that just or democratic?
‘Democracy died in Lancashire after last October’s decision. We hope it can be resurrected by the High Court in Manchester finding this decision to allow fracking unlawful and one which must be revoked immediately.’
Ahead of the case, anti-fracking protests have been taking place across Lancashire, with the local police and crime commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, expressing concern about the ‘strain’ it is placing on ‘already depleted resources’.
According to the BBC, Grunshaw said that he believed the government should pick up the cost of extra policing, which already stands at ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’.
The review will be heard in the planning court division of the High Court this week, with the benefit of PNRAG having secured a protective costs order.
Rowan Smith, a public lawyer at Leigh Day, said: ‘Our clients believe that the government has made significant legal errors in overturning the council’s refusal of planning permission to allow fracking on the site.
‘Our clients are local residents, some of whom live within 500 metres of the site, who are genuinely concerned about the negative impact that fracking could have on their lives, the lives of other residents and on the local environment.
‘We will argue on behalf of our clients that the decision to allow fracking on the site appears to have been taken in breach of the council’s development plan, as well as in breach of the correct planning law tests, and would therefore be unsafe and unsustainable for the local area.’
Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal
Image: Barton Moss, UK - January 26, 2014: An anti-fracking protester in a Guy Fawkes mask holds up a placard during an organised 'day of solidarity' at an iGas drilling site at Barton Moss.