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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.