The community group Harthill Against Fracking (HAF) have brought the challenge against the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government over a decision of the Planning Inspectorate in June 2018 which approved permission for exploratory drilling for prospective fracking.
Harthill resident Les Barlow is bringing the legal action on behalf of the Harthill Against Fracking 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 statutory review is brought under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and concerns the decision of the Secretary of State, given by his inspector, to grant permission to fracking company INEOS to begin exploratory drilling.
The inquiry took place in April 2018. HAF is now asking the court to consider whether, in refusing their 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 Planning Inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice.
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.
Mr Barlow, who is co-chairman of HAF and lives approximately 700 meters from the proposed fracking site, said:
“We look forward to having an opportunity at the hearing to put forward arguments as to why we believe the decision was unlawful. Fracking is a divisive issue across the country and it is crucial that local communities are properly involved in decisions relating to fracking which could affect their natural surroundings. We believe that our voice was diminished in this process due to the inspector’s refusal to adjourn the inquiry so that we could properly consider the late evidence which was submitted by INEOS.”
Anna Dews, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added:
“Our client believes the Planning Inspector’s decision was wrong in law because, by allowing INEOS to adduce late evidence and refuse our client's subsequent application for an adjournment, the inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice. We hope that the High Court will agree with our client’s arguments and quash the decision, allowing for a fresh inquiry in which all parties can properly consider all the information available and fully participate.”