A community group from Harthill in Yorkshire is bringing a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government over a decision of the Planning Inspectorate which approved permission for exploratory drilling for prospective fracking.
Les Barlow is bringing the legal action on behalf of the Harthill Against Fracking (HAF) group, represented by law firm Leigh Day. HAF is a group of around 100 local Harthill residents, who came together in January 2017 in opposition to INEOS’s plans to explore and possibly frack for shale gas just outside their village.
The group have been given permission for a statutory review under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 of the decision of the Secretary of State, given by his inspector, in June 2018. HAF is asking the court to consider whether, in refusing the Claimant’s request to adjourn the planning inquiry so that they could consider new highways material which emerged just before the inquiry was due to start, the inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice.
The hearing will take place on 13th November at the High Court in London as it has been categorised a Significant Planning Court Claim. Leigh Day has instructed barrister Dr Ashley Bowes of Cornerstone Barristers to represent Mr Barlow at the hearing.
HAF say that because of the late evidence and their outstanding request for an adjournment, which was not decided upon until the first day of the hearing, they did not know the full case they had to meet until the inquiry had started. Consequently, they were unable to adduce evidence or make submissions, informed by an expert, in relation to opposing INEOS’s case. At the hearing in November they hope that the court will quash the decision of 6 June 2018 and order a new inquiry.
Mr Barlow, who is co-chairman of HAF and lives approximately 700 meters from the proposed fracking site, said:
“Our group of local residents is very concerned about the impact of fracking on our local community and environment and we were keen to be part of the planning process to voice our concerns. We hope that the court will acknowledge that, as a result of the Planning Inspector’s decision to admit the late evidence and refuse an adjournment, the original planning inquiry was unfair and we hope that the court will order a fresh inquiry so that we can properly argue our case.”
Anna Dews, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added:
“Our client believes the planning Inspector’s decision was wrong in law because the Inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice. By admitting key evidence, served on our client by INEOS only ten days before the inquiry started, and about which our client was unable to respond properly, we believe the inspector breached the common law.
“The judge who granted permission, also provided our client with an Aarhus environmental costs cap. This is an important step forward not only for our client but also other groups campaigning to protect the environment.”
INEOS’s initial application for exploratory drilling at Harthill was rejected by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in January 2018 but was then referred by INEOS to the Planning Inspectorate for an inquiry, which took place in April 2018.
Shortly before the inquiry was due to start a 140-page Enhanced Traffic Management Plan (ETMP) was disclosed by INEOS. This was given to the council on 23 March but was only sent to interested parties by council planners, including HAF, on 10 April two weeks before the inquiry was due to start.
Given the volume and complexity of the material in the report HAF applied for an adjournment to the inquiry so they could properly digest and consider the report.
Despite the short notice and HAF’s advance request for a short adjournment, the Planning Inspector refused HAF’s request on the first day of the hearing, the inquiry went ahead, and the Inspector allowed INEOS’s appeal. The decision was announced on 7 June 2018.