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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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”.