13th June 2014
Lawyers for a Balcombe residents’ group have issued legal proceedings in the High Court in an attempt to overturn Cuadrilla’s planning permission for drilling in the village.
Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA), which has 312 members, is taking legal action against both West Sussex County Council and Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited. It claims the decision by the planning committee to allow Cuadrilla to test its well and erect a flare was unlawful.
The council’s public consultation attracted nearly 900 objections to the application and just nine comments in support. But on April 29th, the planning committee voted by 12 to 1 in favour of granting planning permission. Cuadrilla now has three years in which to carry out the work.
A press release by solicitors Leigh Day said the grounds of FFBRA’s claim were issued at the High Court on Wednesday (11th June). This listed the group’s objections to the decision and detailed what FFBRA said were repeated unsatisfactory communications with Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited.
Leigh Day said it wrote to Cuadrilla asking for information about the likely timetable for the development at Balcombe. The solicitors said Cuadrilla replied: “At this stage we do not consider it appropriate for our confidential business plans and work schedules to be disclosed to you or your clients.”
FFBRA’s grounds for legal action include objections to Cuadrilla’s conduct during the operation of its previous activities in Balcombe, including allegations of non-compliance with conditions in the past. The grounds also note the scale of local opposition and allege that the Council’s’ insistence that the number of representations in opposition was “not a material consideration” as being “simply wrong in law”.
Ugo Hayter, from the Leigh Day’s human rights team who is representing FFBRA, said: “We believe that this planning permission has been granted unlawfully and flies in the face of overwhelming community opposition.
“Our clients are greatly concerned that this operation risks polluting the aquifer and nearby reservoir. Much more needs to be known about the potential harm drilling for unconventional oil and gas poses to the environment and the public before such swift action is taken by those who seek to gain financially from this potentially devastating rush for energy.”
Sue Taylor, Balcombe resident and campaigner, said: “This planning consent sets a dangerous precedent that the concerns of the local community can be ignored even though it is their health and safety that is at risk. Flaring from oil wells close to residential areas poses an unacceptable threat to human health.”