Legal

Resident challenges minister’s decision to reopen inquiry on Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood fracking plans

jules-burton

A man who lives 500m from Cuadrilla’s proposed shale gas site at Roseacre Wood in Lancashire has begun a legal challenge to the government.

Jules Burton, from Roseacre village, announced today that he had formally asked the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, to reconsider the decision to reopen a public inquiry into fracking plans near his home.

Mr Burton, who has cancer, said he was incensed by the minister’s decision, which he described as “blatantly unfair”.

“I am so angry at the way the Secretary of State seems to feel that he is above the law, that democracy doesn’t count and that he can do what the hell he likes. It doesn’t work that way and he needs to learn.

“One of the reasons I am so incensed about this is that I have been diagnosed with cancer and I have been told I should avoid stress at all costs. What the Secretary of State is doing is subjecting me to a longer period of uncertainty.”

The inspector at the original inquiry, Wendy McKay, recommended refusal of Cuadrilla’s appeal over plans to drill, frack and test up to four wells at Roseacre Wood. She argued that lorry traffic to the site was likely to result in a “real and unacceptable risk” to the safety of people using the route.

This supported the decision made by Lancashire County Council, which refused planning permission in June last year.

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The proposed lorry route to Roseacre Wood. Photo: Roseacre Awareness Group

But on 6 October 2016, Mr Javid said he was minded to approve the Roseacre Wood scheme if traffic issues could be resolved. He announced that he was reopening the inquiry to allow Cuadrilla to put forward more evidence.

In a letter before action, Mr Burton invited the Secretary of State to reject Cuadrilla’s appeal. He said he would consider bringing a statutory challenge if the Secretary of State refused to re-consider his decision. Mr Jarvid has two weeks in which to respond.

Mr Burton, who has been advised by a law firm that he has a strong case, said:

“I am very disappointed that the Secretary of State has chosen to completely disregard the decisions previously made at all levels of local government including Lancashire County Council’s Highways Officer, Planning Officer and Development Control Committee.

“He has also indicated that he is minded to disregard the clear recommendations of the independent Planning Inspector.”

Cuadrilla applied for planning permission for Roseacre Wood in spring 2014. In January 2015, it asked the county council to defer its decision when planning officers recommended refusal of the application. Six months later, planning officers still recommended refusal and the planning committee voted unanimously against the scheme.

Mr Burton said:

“Cuadrilla have had numerous opportunities to find suitable mitigation measures for their fracking application and, over a period of 2 1/2 years, they have failed to do so.  They are now to be given yet another opportunity at a re-opened Public Inquiry which is to be conducted by a new Planning Inspector.”

Different inspector

Mr Burton’s letter before action also asked for clarification about why Mrs McKay has been replaced as the inspector at the new inquiry.

Mr Burton said:

“The new planning inspector (as yet, unidentified) will have no prior knowledge of evidence previously submitted and will, therefore, be completely unfamiliar with the issues around the Roseacre Wood site.

“This will mean yet more stress and uncertainty for the community and more cost and effort for the local campaigning group.

“The Secretary of State can no longer be seen as impartial in this matter and his proposed re-opening of the Public Inquiry is, in my opinion, an abuse of process.”

The Planning inspectorate confirmed it would be appointing a different inspector for the new inquiry. In a letter to participants, it explained why Mrs McKay would not be chairing the hearings:

“This is because, given her conclusions on Appeal C [Roseacre Wood] it could be considered, or perceived, by the parties – or anybody else – that, so far as addressing the matters that the Secretary of State has set down, her mind was already made up.”

Reaction

The Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement this afternoon:

“We can confirm that we have been notified of a potential legal challenge and are considering it carefully.”

A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said the action “is a matter for DLCG to comment on”. Last month, the company said it looked forward to demonstrating a the reopened inquiry that it would meet the highway safety requirements.

Support for challenge

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Photo: Roseacre Awareness Group

Roseacre Awareness Group, a local community campaign group which took part in the original inquiry, welcomed Mr Burton’s action. A spokesperson said:

“We regard the proposed re-opening of the Public Inquiry as being grossly unfair. We have spent a great deal of time and effort in making the case that the Roseacre Wood site is not suitable for fracking.

“The site is 11 miles from the strategic road network and the last 6 miles of the proposed route are made up of unclassified country lanes which are extensively utilised by vulnerable road users such as walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

“The safety of such road users must be paramount and the independent Planning Inspector made this clear in her report. She found that Cuadrilla’s traffic mitigation measures were insufficient and that there was a real risk to residents and other road users.

“In spite of the recommendations made by the Planning Inspector, the Secretary of State has indicated that he is minded to allow fracking at the Roseacre Wood site and has proposed the re-opening of the Public Inquiry to be conducted by a new Planning Inspector.

“As things stand, we do not know when any re-opened Public Inquiry will be, its duration, how long Cuadrilla will have to submit its new mitigation measures and how long we will have to respond to them.

“This is undemocratic and we will continue to press for a re-think by the Government. There is no social licence for fracking at Roseacre Wood and there never will be.”

Second challenge

This is the second letter before action sent to the Secretary of State sent by opponents of Cuadrilla’s fracking plans in Lancashire.

A fortnight ago, Preston New Road Action Group, represented by the law firm Leigh Day, announced it was challenging his decision to allow Cuadrilla’s appeal for fracking at Little Plumpton.

The group said the decision, which overturned the county council’s refusal of planning permission, was unlawful and “fundamentally flawed”. If Mr Jarvid refused to reconsider his decision, the group said it would consider bringing a statutory challenge under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

In September, the anti-fracking campaigner, Gayzer Frackman, launched a fundraising appeal in preparation for another challenge, possibly on climate change grounds. His advisers, Garden Court Chambers, said this afternoon “There hasn’t yet been any progress on the Gayzer Frackman case but watch this space”.

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

28 replies »

  1. Challenge away! Hope that it costs a lot. The challenges won’t win and they won’t change the timetable for operations either.

    It is interesting that this article notes that the Roseacre Wood planning officer recommended against that operation, but later on, when detailing the PNR controversy, the author did not note that the planning officer had recommended that site be approved. A double standard perhaps? hmmmmmm. ;o)

    • Hi Nick. Thanks for your comment. I think the cancer diagnosis is relevant in this case because Jules Burton was told to avoid stress. He said the reopened planning inquiry would add to uncertainty and stress. Best wishes, Ruth

      • The whole nation energy supply is emotional blackmailed by one single man who can easily take simple measure ro mitigate these “stresses”. If he is sick he should stay home indoor. And if this matter causes him stress then why he involves himself in it. Let other file the complaint for him. Even better swap his place with Nick Grealy for a fews weeks. I am sure Nick would love to be close to the action to do his research.

        I remember the hospital area where I work underwent redevelopment for huge Research facility and new Hospital that the construction work went for almost 2 years. I didn’t hear any complaints or legal challenge from the patients staying at the hospital. And the hospital is right next a very busy city highway. I definitely didn’t hear a request or legal challenge to shut down the highway because he the patient want a stress free environment.

        Selfish action. Milking it. Too old to be considered as generation me me-me-me or a mini-me. But sorry for his health condition which he should seek medical help not political agenda.

        • Such cynical rubbish. At least patients in a hospital know that a new development is for the benefit of patients to follow. Fracking will yield a few years of productivity only and pollute the area for this generation and for those that follow. Are you sure it’s not your own interests that are thinking ‘me, me, me’.

  2. Please can people show some respect for Mr Burton’s health – this is obviously a very stressful time for him and the additional stress and worry would be difficult for anyone to face, without having a critical illness.
    I find it deeply offensive to make this some sort of ill health competition or make flippant comments. His circumstances are real and personal and should be respected. People can disagree without making nasty, personal comments.

  3. Susan Sarandon had interesting things to say about Fracking on Newsnight tonight (BBC2 Weds 2/11)… saying people are at last waking up to what fracking is doing to their country – not least poisoning it’s water. How is the quality of ground water not a national security issue? (besides its protection being a human right).

    If this Roseacre Wood development cannot be stopped in its tracks then Cuadrilla and the government (who’ve bought into the fracking PR) must get their bluff called. One way is through the threat of monitoring and I don’t just mean spot checks. Fracking companies always shy away from continuous monitoring, because they don’t (and can’t) measure up to their acclaimed standards on emissions, safety, contamination, noise and road wear & tear etc. If the Environment Minister Andrea Leadsom’s statement that ‘transgressions can lead to closing down an operation’, is true then it should be possible to ask what mechanisms are in place for this.

    First of all baseline readings of existing air and water qualities need to be measured – for methane content, VOC’s, benzene, sulpher dioxide and the other chemicals that fracking is notorious for introducing. Without baseline readings it’s almost impossible to prove that those things weren’t there already, or naturally occurring. Particulates get thrown into the air during trucking, drilling and extraction, but especially when drilling and these can transport heavy metals and carcinogens into the atmosphere. Emissions occur at nearly all stages of the drilling and extraction processes.

    A friendly university with a practical geo-science or geo-engineering department may be willing to help out. There’s a forensic geoscience group attached to the geological society that may be interested – but I don’t know if they’re still active. Even amateurs, from a distance, can observe methane and other invisible gas emissions these days with video using infra red filters. Photos of road surfaces can easily be snapped over time and anyone can observe traffic movements to see if they’re keeping their word on truck counts.

    If all these things aren’t already in hand I hope these hints are useful to somebody. I have seen so many appalling accounts of industry, carelessness, failures, unnecessary risks and abuses of good community relations (mainly in the US) that everyone should be concerned. Cuadrilla’s track record isn’t great so far: https://drillordrop.com/2015/05/05/investigation-finds-multiple-planning-breaches-and-technical-problems-at-cuadrillas-drilling-sites/

  4. I would just like to thank the people who were kind enough to realise that this is a stressful time not just for me but for many people who live in Lancashire. This challenge is on legal grounds alone. My health, whilst evidently fascinating to some of the intellectually challenged who apparently take delight in the ill fortune of others, has not yet reached the statute books and so does not form any part of this case. It’s interesting that those who say they support fracking are scared to identify themselves and will never debate the subject in a sensible manner. As has been shown time and again through survey after survey the more people know about fracking, the more they oppose it.

    Clearly those who have posted such puerile drivel are wholly ignorant of the 604 page report that the Planning Inspector produced as the result of the public inquiry in February and March of this year. I suggest they look it up – you can find it online, it’s in the public domain – and it is just possible they may begin to understand the reasons for my actions. If they can’t be bothered to undertake even that little research then they obviously have no opinions of their own but find it amusing to belittle the work of others. Where this last is true they’re not even worthy of contempt. We’ll all know who they are, they’re the ones who make what they believe to be clever and sarcastic comments about this post.

  5. Sorry if you pretend to be impartial don’t write things like “who has cancer”.
    Ooooo a law firm says he has a strong case! Well I never. Piece of advice keep your money and pass it onto your kids rather than to another greedy lawyer who will tell you everything you want to hear….until they stop getting paid.

  6. I rarely post online but I have been appalled by some of the nasty comments on here. Anyone living with cancer or who has seen a loved one go through treatment would simply not be making comments like “I have cancer too. Can you mention that.?” or “If he is sick he should stay home indoor[sic]. And if this matter causes him stress then why he involves himself in it. [sic]” Wherever in the world unconventional gas exploitation has come up against communities it has caused division, strife and stress.
    It is being inflicted upon communities against their will, and in the case of Roseacre, against planning law. Mr Burton, you have the support and good wishes of a great number of good people for the action you are taking, believe me.
    I don’t know why people in favour of fracking can’t stick to the facts and instead continually resort to personal attack. I guess that’s all they’re left with when the facts do not favour their case.

  7. We all know that planning decisions are based on technical and standards. If one side use emotional tactics such as children and sickness to drive your argument then your opponents will use the same tactic to counter your agenda. If the planning policy do not specifically set out to cover cancer patient or other illness in regards to “stresses”. And these streses are subjective. Having to pay hig energy bill for my home is stressful to for many people including poor family with children or cancer. Listening to other people whinging or nagging is stressful but if it is their legal rights then so be it. And so my point here planning permission should be considered on its merit evidence and not emotional blackmail.

    • The argument that fracking will lower domestic energy bills is dead and buried. The only people to claim shale gas would reduce energy bills were George Osborne and David Cameron. Independent experts and industry – and now the ASA – agreed that shale gas would have no impact on the price we pay for fuel, as the UK is part of a well interconnected gas market. I’m afraid you will be stuck with the “stress” of paying high energy bills whether or not we frack. Poor families living in fuel poverty is a political choice, which could be remedied through the benefits system given the right political will. It is not an economic necessity.

      As Jules Barton himself has responded in this thread, his challenge is on legal grounds alone.

  8. That’s hogwash TW, all evaluation must consider qualitative as well as quantitative measures. The world is comprised of human settlements, as communities of subjects, as much as it can be rated by technocrats as collections of objects. Sorry if that’s too hard for you to get your head around – you appear to want to dismiss any human argument as emotive.

    There will be other solutions for cheaper power (not via fracking).

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