29th April 2014
The Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association is considering a legal challenge to the decision by West Sussex County Council’s planning committee to grant permission to Cuadrilla to test the viability of its exploratory oil well.
FFBRA opposed the application and asked the committee to defer a decision because it said council officers had not accurately assessed the risks of air and water pollution.
But at a bad tempered meeting in Horsham this morning, the committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the application, with some additional conditions. The result was greeted by shouts of “Shame on you” from the public gallery. Only one councillor voted against: Sue Mullins, the only Labour member of the committee, who represents Gossops Green and Ifield East.
After the meeting, Charles Metcalfe, of FFBRA, said: “The fight goes on. Our next step could well be recourse to the courts. Certain bodies have not taken account of evidence we think they should have done. We will be talking to our lawyers about a judicial review.”
Mr Metcalfe, who lives 850 metres from the drill site, said: “This decision is going to be one that forms the basis for an awful lot of oil and gas applications for the future development of 60 per cent of our countryside. This is going to be a decision that changes the face of the Weald and 60 per cent of England. And I deplore that.”
The group had argued that the report by planning officers, which recommended approval, relied too heavily on the views of the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. FFBRA said both bodies had been deficient in their responsibilities in Balcombe. Mr Metcalfe said “We have already sent a solicitor’s letter to the planning councillors. The council’s lawyers were fully aware of that letter.”
He said he was hugely proud that the majority of people of Balcombe had stood up for the protection of the village, future generations and the countryside. “Unfortunately”, he said, “the people we have elected to be guardians of our countryside have taken a different path.”
“You have to assume that West Sussex County Council is operating independently but in the background there is a government in power who is very much in favour of this and that cannot be outside their minds.”
He described the decision as a “declaration of war”.
“They know there is going to be considerable opposition and they know that we had in mind to seek a judicial review. They have taken a position but the fight will continue.”
Asked what he felt about another cycle of protests, he said: “I do not look forward to that cycle. I wish Cuadrilla was not in Balcombe. We were very grateful for the protectors who came to help us fight our case. This is not finished.
“We will fight in the way we have been fighting”, he said. “Our protectors will continue protecting.”
He predicted it would involve a lot of what he described as “completely unnecessary expensive of policing.”
“It is a disaster on many fronts. But what worries me most is the potential disaster to our countryside.”