Quash Cuadrilla’s Balcombe planning permission, villagers’ lawyer urges

The planning permission granted to Cuadrilla for its exploratory oil well at Balcombe should be quashed and the application reconsidered, the lawyer for a group of villagers argued this morning.

David Wolfe QC, representing the Frack Free Balcombe Resdents’ Association, was summing up at the judicial review in the High Court of the decision by West Sussex County Council.

The council’s planning committee voted in April by a margin of 12 to one to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla for flow testing and flaring. FFBRA had objected to the application and called for tighter conditions on any permission.

The group brought the judicial review because it believed council officers misdirected the committee in six key areas, making the decision unlawful.

In summarising his case, Mr Wolfe told the court that council officers had been wrong to say that the committee must assume that the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive would do their jobs satisfactorily.

He also said the officers had misdirected members by saying the committee could not take into account:

  • Breaches of planning conditions by Cuadrilla at the site imposed under an earlier permission
  • The number of objections to the current application
  • Any costs arising from the application if it were approved

He also said the decision was unlawful because the committee should not have been told that a recommendation of Public Health England was covered by a permit issued by the Environment Agency and that the Health and Safety Executive had looked in detail at the integrity of a well drilled on the same site in the 1980s. Neither of these statements were true, Mr Wolfe argued.

He said West Sussex County Council “could not show that the decision of the planning committee would have been the same if the directions had been different. The permission must be quashed to allow for its lawful reconsideration by the Council”.

Mr Wolfe added that judicial review “must not unconsciously stray from its proper province of reviewing the propriety of the decision-making process into the forbidden territory of evaluating the substantial merits of the decision”.

Despite this, the judge, Mr Justice Gilbart, questioned Mr Wolfe closely this morning on issues of air quality monitoring and modelling and on what costs might have been incurred by the council. He also asked to see copies of the planning application and environmental permit and correspondence between the council and Public Health England. The case has been adjourned for the judge to consider these documents. He said he would deliver a written ruling “pretty swiftly”.

The council’s barrister, James Maurici QC, was not asked to address the court this morning but he responded to FFBRA’s case yesterday. Details here.

Mr Justice Gilbart thanked FFBRA members, West Sussex council officers and the chair of the planning committee, Cllr Heidi Brunsden, for attending.

After the hearing, Ugo Hayter, of law firm Leigh Day, representing FFBRA, said: “We think the councillors should have been able to consider the issues that our clients raised. We hope the court will agree and quash the decision of the planning committee.” West Sussex County Council declined to comment on the proceedings.

Our report on FFBRA’s case – day one of the judicial review hearing

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