Ecotricity funds Balcombe residents’ legal action against Cuadrilla planning permission

29th May 2014

The renewable energy company, Ecotricity, has agreed to fund legal action by a group of Balcombe residents campaigning against Cuadrilla’s oil exploration operation in the village.

The Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) is considering seeking a judicial review of the decision by West Sussex County Council to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla to test the well it drilled last year.

The council’s planning committee voted by 12-1 on April 29th to approve the application, despite nearly 900 objections and a petition against of 5,000 signatures. Cuadrilla said it did not plan to frack the well at Balcombe.

FFBRA is taking action against the council under a Conditional Fee Agreement. This means that if it wins it will face no costs. If it loses, costs will be capped at £10,000 under the Aarhus Convention, a European law which gives the public a right to challenge environmental decision-making.

In its latest newsletter, distributed last night, FFBRA described Ecotricity’s decision as “tremendous news”.

“Ecotricity has kindly stepped forward and sent us £10,000. FFBRA will hold this in our bank account ring-fenced to either return in the event we win our judicial review or to use to pay any costs awarded against us if we lose.”

Earlier this month, FFBRA wrote to West Sussex County Council’s senior legal officer explaining why it thought the decision to grant planning permission was illegal. It has given the council until the end of the month to respond.

If the judicial review goes ahead, FFBRA will argue:

  • West Sussex acted unlawfully by assuming the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive statements on air and water quality could be relied on
  • The planning committee was misdirected over EA permits and Cuadrilla’s record on complying with planning conditions
  • Advice on HSE guidance and the benefits of a legal agreement with Cuadrilla was flawed
  • The committee failed to follow it’s a resolution passed by the council last October on approving oil and gas developments
  • Advice to the committee that the weight of public opinion was not a relevant consideration was “wrong in law”
  • The committee should have considered whether approving the application would lead to greater costs for policing protests in future

Last year, Ecotricity promised it would never supply gas obtained through fracking. In February, the magazine PR Week reported that the company was planning to support up to 90 local anti-fracking groups by providing public relations and campaigning advice.

British Gas’s parent company, Centrica, has invested £40 million in exploration for shale gas in the Bowland area of Lancashire, in partnership with Cuadrilla Resources Ltd.

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