Judges in Manchester are to hear all three legal challenges to rulings by the Secretary of State over fracking in Lancashire.
The government had wanted all the cases to be decided at one hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
But DrillOrDrop understands they are now to be considered at the High Court in Manchester because they are regarded as cases of local importance.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, faces two challenges to his decision to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla for drilling, fracking and testing at Preston New Road. One is by Preston New Road Action Group and the other by an individual campaigner, Gayzer Frackman.
Mr Javid also faces a challenge to his decision to reopen the public inquiry on Cuadrilla’s other proposed site at Roseacre Wood.
His decision on Preston New Road overruled the refusal of planning permission by Lancashire County Council but followed the recommendation of the inspector at a public inquiry.
The Preston New Road challenges had been lodged in Manchester but then sent to London. DrillOrDrop has seen an order signed earlier this week by Mr Justice Dove which said they should be decided in Manchester. The judge said:
“In my view both of these cases have a clear and strong local connection and should be transferred to Manchester for the purposes of the hearing. In my view it is very important that these cases should be heard by a High Court judge with significant planning experience.”
The order said the Preston New Road cases should be heard together. They will be considered in what is known as a “rolled-up hearing”, where the judge will decide on whether the challenge should be allowed and the substance of the challenges at the same time.
The case is expected to last two days. No date has yet been set for the hearing but Mr Justice Dove said
“these cases should be expedited and heard as soon as practicable”.
On Roseacre Wood, the planning inspector recommended refusal of permission. But Mr Javid said he was minded to grant consent if concerns about traffic and highway safety could be resolved.
His decision to reopen the public inquiry to allow Cuadrilla to present more evidence has been challenged by Roseacre resident, Jules Burton.
Mr Burton had objected to his case being decided in London and he said today he had been told it would also be heard in Manchester.
“I am absolutely delighted. There was a feeling that these were large local cases that should be heard locally. There are senior planning judges in Manchester and they will hear the cases.”
Mr Burton has said the Secretary of State’s decision to reopen the inquiry was “irrational”, “tainted by bias” and amounted to an abuse of power. In his case, he argued:
“Cuadrilla has known since before its planning application was made that the effect of the proposed development on highway safety was an important and controversial issue. It has had numerous opportunities to produce a scheme that addressed the concerns of Lancashire County Council and other parties. It has failed to do so.
“There is no reason to suppose that a further opportunity will result in a different outcome.
“Where, as here, there is no new issue, merely a failure by one party to make good its case, it is an abuse of the inquiry rules to give that party an opportunity to re-argue its case.
“It is inconceivable that the Secretary of State would allow an unsuccessful objector an opportunity to present new evidence after an inquiry had closed, yet here the Secretary of State is prepared to give Cuadrilla the same opportunity.
“He has done so without offering any party the chance to make representations on whether the inquiry should be re-opened; without giving consideration to the prejudice that would be suffered by objectors (most of whom do not have Cuadrilla’s deep pockets) and without considering the distress that will be caused to the local community, which has lived in the shadow of these proposals for over two years.”
There is no date yet for this challenge.