A group opposed to the government’s policy on fast-tracking shale gas planning applications has launched a fundraising bid to mount a legal challenge.
Last month the Energy and Local Government Secretaries announced measures to override local authorities on fracking planning decisions.
They said the government could take over applications from councils that were said to “repeatedly fail” to make decisions within the statutory 16-week timeframe. It could also intervene in fracking planning appeals.
The government said local communities would “remain fully involved in planning decisions with any shale application”.
But today the SaFE Alliance (Safety In Fossil fuel Exploitation) said the policy “ended local decision-making as we know it” and would “make it virtually impossible for local communities to stop fracking in their areas”.
It began a crowdfunding campaign to raise £20,000 to finance a judicial review of the policy.
In a statement SaFE Alliance said:
“The policy creates presumptions in favour of the need and safety of fracking, while also giving the government expansive new powers to override local decisions that go against fracking applications and to punish local authorities that take the time to properly consider planning applications.”
“This approach wholly contradicts the government’s localism agenda and will have a dramatic impact on local people and their surroundings.”
Emily Shirley (pictured left), co-founder of SaFE Alliance , said: “The government has been pushing its pro-fracking agenda, at the expense of genuine green alternatives for many years.”
“In doing so, it has ignored the evidence and voices of local people who, through democratic processes, have rejected attempts to expand the industry given the inevitable exacerbation of climate change as well as significant concerns regarding safety, noise and air and water pollution.”
“This policy is an attempt to circumvent those democratic processes, to force local councils to approve planning applications for fracking, and to override council decisions should they seek to oppose it. It is essential that this national policy is challenged so that these issues can properly be decided at a local level.”
Jamie Potter (pictured right) is a partner at the law firm Bindmans and part of the legal team working on the challenge. He said:
“This policy appears to have been introduced without any prior warning and with little regard as to the science of fracking.
“As far as we are aware, there was no consultation and nor did the government conduct an assessment of the impact on the environment or as to the costs and benefits of the policy.
“Moreover, the government have provided no explanation as to how this policy fits within the existing regime, which includes a framework for mineral exploitation as well as a myriad of local development plans that cover fracking.”
“All of these issues give rise to serious questions as to the lawfulness of the Policy, which, if the Policy is not withdrawn, should be challenged in the Courts.”
The SaFE Alliance said it intended to send a letter before action to the Secretary of State of Communities and Local Government. If the policy were not withdrawn it would issue proceedings for a judicial review.
The campaign has a website for donations and more information. It is hosted by CrowdJustice, an independent crowdfunding platform that aims to provide access to the courts for those who simply cannot afford to seek justice.
The £20,000 target will be used to instruct Bindmans and legal counsel to bring the proceedings for judicial review and to protect SaFE Alliance against liability for costs if the challenged failed.