Opposition

Government minister faces double legal challenge over Lancashire fracking decisions

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A community group and a resident have applied to the High Court to challenge decisions by the Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, over Cuadrilla’s plans to frack near Blackpool.

Mr Javid announced last month that he was granting planning permission to drill, frack and test four shale gas wells at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.

He also said he was minded to approve a similar scheme at Roseacre Wood and was reopening a public inquiry on that application.

This morning, Preston New Road Action Group confirmed it was seeking a statutory challenge to the Little Plumpton decision.

And this afternoon, Jules Burton, who lives in Roseacre, said he was doing the same over reopening the  Roseacre Wood inquiry

Both had sent letters before action to the minister asking him to reconsider his decision. But he refused.

Preston New Road Action Group and Mr Burton confirmed today they had submitted papers to the High Court seeking a statutory challenge under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Little Plumpton

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Entrance to Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton

On Little Plumpton, Mr Javid accepted the recommendation of a planning inspector and overruled the refusal of planning permission by Lancashire County Council in June 2015.

Preston New Road Action Group argued that the Minister’s decision was unlawful because it failed to apply properly the relevant planning laws and policy.

A spokesperson for the group said today:

“This application was conclusively rejected on sound criteria, through local planning systems at Lancashire County Council. That decision should stand. Local planning and local democracy exist for a purpose. It is best placed to protect and understand local interests.

“The UK has a proud history of democracy. It purports to represent the people whose solemn duty it is to serve. Yet this decision neither represents the people’s wishes, nor those of their elected representatives in local democracy who possess crucial local planning knowledge.

“Our community has endured the threat of the fracking industry for almost three years. There is no social licence to proceed with fracking in Lancashire. Overwhelmingly, the communities affected said no. We continue to say no. We will not be silenced on this, for silence implies acceptance. There is no acceptance of a fracking industry.

“The decision by this lone voice in Westminster to overturn local democracy, has reverberated throughout the country.  It begs the question of whether local democracy even exists, if it can be set aside in order to facilitate the interests of corporate industry.

“Therefore, we seek to prove that this judgement is essentially flawed. We intend to invoke further legal routes to challenge this ruling and deem it unlawful.”

Rowan Smith, of the group’s lawyers, Leigh Day, said:

“Our clients believe that the government has made significant legal errors in overturning the Council’s refusal of planning permission to allow fracking on the site.

“For example, the decision appears to have been taken in breach of the Council’s development plan, which restricts these types of developments, as well as in breach of the correct planning law tests.

“This matters to our clients, some of whom live within 300 metres of the proposed site, because they fear that any development, which is not granted in compliance with these laws and policy, would be unsafe and unsustainable for the local area.”

Roseacre Wood

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

Mr Javid’s ruling that he was minded to approve Roseacre Wood goes against both the recommendation of the planning inspector and the decision of Lancashire County Council.

Mr Burton, who is represented by Cornerstones Barristers, is challenging the decision to reopen the public inquiry. He said this afternoon:

“I am incredulous that the Secretary of State should feel it appropriate to re-open this Public Inquiry with the clear intention of over-turning not just the original decisions of Lancashire County Council (Planning Officer, Highways Officer and Development Control Committee) but also the unequivocal recommendation of the independent Planning Inspector.

“He has taken no account of local democracy in spite of this Government’s repeated pledges in support of localism.”

Mr Burton’s challenge has been welcomed by Treales, Roseacre and Wharles Parish Council and Roseacre Awareness Group, both of which opposed Cuadrilla’s plans at Roseacre Wood.

A spokesperson for Roseacre Awareness Group said:

“We are very saddened that Mr Burton’s letter before action has been dismissed by the Secretary of State. This leaves him with no choice but to seek a Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision to re-open the Public Inquiry.

“Both the residents and Lancashire County Council have provided strong, robust and compelling evidence to show that Cuadrilla’s plans for the Roseacre Wood site are totally inappropriate and would pose a real danger in terms of road safety. We are being asked once more to present our case with all of the time and effort that this will involve. We regard this as being extremely unfair and an abuse of process.”

Statutory challenges

Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act allows people or organisations with a clear interest in a case to question a decision made by the Secretary of State in a planning appeal.

If these challenges were allowed, the cases would be heard by High Court judges who would rule whether Mr Javid’s decisions were legally valid. The judges could quash or confirm the minister’s decisions or ask him to look at them again.

Reaction

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “We can confirm that we have received a legal challenge”.

A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said the company was not making any comment at this stage.

But she confirmed that the timetable for operations at the Preston New Road site was unchanged by today’s development.

Last week, chief executive, Francis Egan, told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that site construction could start in early 2017, with drilling in the second quarter and testing at the end of the year.


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

21 replies »

  1. “Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act allows people or organisations with a clear interest in a case to question a decision made by the Secretary of State in a planning appeal.”

    This right wouldn’t exist were it not for the democratic nature of British planning law based, as it is, on an Act of Parliament that would have been scrutinised by elected representatives in the Commons, then lawmakers in the Lords, during its passage through Parliament as a Bill before receiving Royal Assent.

    The claim that actions taken in accordance with the democratically made laws of our country are somehow undemocratic really is at odds with the facts.

    In the same way, there’s nothing undemocratic about this “17 cases where windfarms were rejected by councils resulted in appeals being submitted to ministers in Edinburgh for them rule on. Of these, ministers backed the local council on just six occasions – and overturned the local decision 11 times. It means windfarm developers have a success rate on appeal of 64 per cent” http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/windfarms-are-waved-through-by-snp-ministers-1-4279753

    • but @environmentor, you are clearly missing the point. Please allow me to enlighten you. When a decision is made in favor of the anti-frack mafia’s views it is right and just and it is democracy in action. When any decision goes against their views it is either a miscarriage of justice or a rejection of democracy. This group is so used to making stories up without regard to logic or fact, that they cannot even detect the blatant hypocrisy in their complaints.

      • Anti fracking brigades play the victims very well. It’s their way or the highway. Waste of time and money. If everyone can use judicial review for any important national projects nothing will get built in this country and perpetrators can sabotage our country development amd investment by deter investment with these judicial review if the decision don’t go tjeir way.

    • Fantastic figures from wind energy input. No wonder everyone agrees renewable energy is the future.

      http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/windfarms-are-waved-through-by-snp-ministers-1-4279753

      Of course everyone has the right to object to any energy projects.

      The Paris climate deal has just been ratified by the UK.

      It is in the ‘Global interest’ to reduce green house gases.

      Scotland has a mandate to work towards this end. It is acting now with huge success.

      England has a mandate to work towards this end. It is doing the exact opposite.

      http://mollymep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Recent-RE-performance_summary-Feb16-1.pdf

      http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/749e3099-1c81-497f-bf1f-c9c89c2b1936

      Some people will always face disruption through new energy projects.

      It is about which energy is the best solution for everyone.

      The entire planet states that is renewable s and we need to head quickly down that path.

      • Most of what you say is actually fairly rational, until the end of your statement. “The entire planet states that is renewable s and we need to head quickly down that path.” This is patently false. The entire planet does not state that renewables need to be aggressively pursued. Most people who understand the economics of the equation know that doing so would be both impractical and irresponsible. It would cost a lot of lives, John. And it is not fair to those who live on the edge. Assuming that everyone is a green zealot, like you, is inappropriate. Renewables will be a larger part of the energy mix in the future, but they will likely need back up power sources for at least another century and probably more. Some feel that battery power will never be economically viable.

  2. Ruth and Paul, Because you know that I have such great respect for your objective reporting and your even-handedness, I am going to give you the inside scoop on a breaking story. You may wish to write another headline article about this. Drum roll please………my cat, Whiskers, is also intending to launch a legal challenge to the Secretary’s decision. I have tried to talk him out of it, but he insists on pursuing the case. He believes both sites should be used to grow catnip, and he finds it a great affront to local democracy that no one else is speaking up in support of his cause. Like the anti-frackers, he feels he clearly has majority support because 100% of the letters on the subject written to the Secretary and the LCC were in favor of catnip production. Not a single letter against. Whiskers says that this even beat the anti-fracker majority which was in the 95% range.

    I have some issues with Whisker’s stance but he doesn’t want to listen to my facts. He just wants his catnip. Anyway, if you need some quotes from Whiskers for your objective website, just let me know. If he isn’t all strung out, I may be able to get some material for you.

    • You really don’t do anything for your argument by this sort of thing. The article is reporting fact and quotes from those challenging the decisions. You may not wish to read about it, so I would suggest you just take a leaf out of this government’s book and don’t read anything you don’t like on the subject of fracking!

      • Great quote from Ted Nordhaus: “So long as the climate movement is limited to NIMBY fracking opponents, anti-nuclear greens, and renewables fabulists, it is unlikely to achieve either the broad social consensus that will be necessary to advance aggressive action, nor action that is particularly likely to achieve the levels of carbon reduction that will be necessary to significantly mitigate climate change. “

  3. Thank god the government is going to abolish the cap on legal fees brought by these types of people.
    I guess I knew deep down this action was going to be taken, it’s their last chance to get any headlines, apart from when they are arrested in the future as they always resort to violence when they don’t get their way.
    If you honestly think our Government is going to let a handful of doom mongers damage the investment case to international investors you’re sadly delusional.
    Your money could have gone to a far greater cause like Christmas presents for your kids or a holiday to unwind from all the capitalism.
    You moan about the system being against you but you’re the root cause. The predictability is so boring.

    • Mr M.
      ‘it’s their last chance to get any headlines, apart from when they are arrested in the future as they always resort to violence when they don’t get their way.’

      No violence, only peaceful protest; please retract this disinformation.

      ‘If you honestly think our Government is going to let a handful of doom mongers damage the investment case to international investors you’re sadly delusional’

      Statoil and Chesapeake say NO

      ‘Your money’

      Actually, this is also your money, presuming you are a tax payer on all those successful investments?

      • Sher. Time will tell.
        Jeez not you as well going on about those two! There are other companies that are just waiting for us to clear out the rag tag army.
        All my funds are offshore in tax havens or tied up in corporate tax loop holes, I thought you would realise this?
        Tbh right now I’m more annoyed with our weak government than you lot. Due to the fact Javid came out so weak on Cuadrilla I missed out on a hefty sum. Still up over 50% but greed is good as Mr G says.
        All eyes on Third Energy’ case now. If our sides lawyers cannot win that case I will bail out as it should be an easy one. Your friend Paul, Peter or Philip I can’t remember their name wasn’t able to understand why it would be an easy case but I couldn’t be bothered explaining why the world spins.
        Look fwd to the comments next week 🙂

        • ‘Jeez not you as well going on about those two!’….those two have just been talking to the UK government….keep up. I thought you were a shrewd investor; or are you just a rogue trader? Not all your investments seem to be doing that well eh?

        • I suspect fracking investors are broke and bitter. Their ramblings about making money are in their imagination. Shale is a financial disaster.

          http://finance.yahoo.com/news/jim-chanos-the-fracking-business-is-a-capital-sinkhole-for-investors-165451020.html

          Surprised no one bothered with UK shale years ago when prices were relatively higher. Maybe people were less gullible then. The shale industry needs the small investor to swallow hook line and sinker.

          If the investment world can see it looses billions, I wonder why the small investor can’t. Actually I know the answer to that.

          Do the fracking company directors send thank you cards for the non repayable money they keep receiving?

          • Well, John, I suspect that, based on facts, you couldn’t be more mistaken! The fracking industry was almost nothing in terms of market capitalization just twenty years ago. Now it is worth billions and has created trillions in GDP growth. Wealth has been created on a scale you cannot even imagine.

            Whether the industry is overvalued today is a different story, and one that is highly subjective. Chanos is entitled to his opinion, but obviously there are a lot of smart analysts out there who disagree with him and they keep the stock prices where they are now. The companies go through cyclical troughs, as they have since the beginning of the industry, and they come out as commodity prices recover.

            So, the investment world clearly doesn’t “see it looses billions.” But one short seller, who is widely known to talk his book, does. I respect Chanos, as he is one of the best, but he’s just one voice, and he has had his share of bad calls. http://www.cornerofberkshireandfairfax.ca/forum/fairfax-financial/uncle-jim-chanos'-bad-year-(kynikos-associates)/

            A number of short-sellers before Chanos have thought the same and have lost their shirts.

            Also, the “non-repayable money” the firms keep receiving is called equity. It is not common for managers to thank the owners of the business to continue investing in the business for their economic self-interest.

  4. as this site shows people will argue and argue about fracking but the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end, years after cuadrilla thought they would be drilling on the north side of preston new road they aren’t and the only sign of energy being produced in the area is the solar farm on the south side of the road

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