Court challenge to Cuadrilla’s Balcombe planning permission begins tomorrow

A group from Balcombe begins a legal challenge tomorrow morning (Thursday November 6th) into the way West Sussex County Council granted planning permission to Cuadrilla for testing and flaring at its exploratory oil well in the village.

The Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association is bringing a judicial review in the High Court in London of the decision made by the council’s planning committee on April 29th this year.

The group, represented by the human rights team at the law firm Leigh Day, will argue that the decision, approved by 12 of the 13 councillors, was unlawful.

Ugo Hayter, of Leigh Day, said: “Our clients are greatly concerned that this [Cuadrilla’s] operation risks polluting the aquifer and nearby reservoir and flies in the face of overwhelming community opposition.  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, a Balcombe resident and campaigner against Cuadrilla’s operation, 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.”

FFBRA will say that the committee acted unlawfully by assuming it had to rely on guidance from other regulators and by accepting advice that the HSE had considered possible interaction between the well and an earlier well drilled in the 1980s.

The group will also argue that the committee was wrongly advised that:

  • A legal agreement with Cuadrilla to enforce planning conditions was not reasonable
  • The weight of public opinion was not a relevant consideration (889 objections versus 9 in support)
  • It could not consider whether approving the application would lead to more protests and higher policing costs
  • An environmental permit monitored and controlled emissions from the site

The court is expected to hear that the committee failed to follow a resolution passed by the full council in October 2013 that set out conditions for approving planning permission for oil and gas developments.

Judicial review is the only option open to people opposed to the granting of planning permission. A High Court judge will assess whether the planning committee made its decision in accordance with the law. If the judicial review is successful, the original decision is declared invalid and struck down. The planning committee would then have to take the decision again.

FFBRA is taking the judicial review under a Conditional Fee Arrangement. If it loses it will not be liable for its own legal costs. Under European law, if West Sussex County Council’s costs are awarded against FFBRA, they will be limited to £10,000. The renewables energy company, Ecotricity, has agreed to underwrite any costs awarded against FFBRA.

The hearing is scheduled to last for two days. will be reporting on the court proceedings. The result is unlikely to be given at the end of the case on Friday.

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