In a landmark decision the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has today granted planning permission for shale gas fracking (hydraulic fracturing) at a site in Lancashire.
The Secretary of State had four appeals before him, two relating to gas exploration and associated monitoring works at Preston New Road and two for similar development at Roseacre Wood. Following consideration of a planning Inspector's report into the four appeals that were heard at an inquiry earlier in the year, the Secretary of State has allowed three appeals, giving the go-ahead for exploratory fracking at Preston New Road and allowing monitoring equipment to be installed at Roseacre Wood.
Although the Inspector recommended the refusal of permission for exploratory works at Roseacre Wood because of a "serious and very significant adverse impact on the safety of people using the public highway" the Secretary of State has decided to re-open the inquiry in relation to this appeal to allow Cuadrilla a further opportunity to show that its proposals would be safe.
In his decision the Secretary of State agreed with his Inspector, Wendy McKay, that "great weight" should be attached to a written ministerial statement made by (what was then) the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2015. The statement set out the government's view that there is a "national need" for shale gas exploration and (with the exception of exploration works at Roseacre Wood pending resolution of the highway safety issue) provided significant support for the proposed developments.
The statement also explained the government's view that shale gas exploration was consistent with the UK's legally binding obligations to reduce carbon emissions. Despite the historic agreement reached at Paris in December 2015, a few months after the statement was issued, which commits the UK to even more stringent carbon reduction targets, the statement has not yet been revised by the government. The Secretary of State, in agreement with the Inspector, decided that it was for the government to decide how to respond to the Paris Agreement through national policy and, unless and until the government indicates otherwise, the statement continues to attract full weight.
The decision is controversial for many reasons, not least because it sees national government overturning a decision to refuse permission by the elected members of Lancashire County Council. It is now the second grant of planning permission (and the first by the Secretary of State) for shale gas exploration by fracking in the UK after a decision by North Yorkshire County Council to grant permission earlier in 2016.
Cornerstone Barristers acted for a number of parties at the inquiry. Estelle Dehon and Matt Lewin represented Friends of the Earth. Dr Ashley Bowes represented Preston New Road Action Group. Robin Green and Jack Parker represented Roseacre Awareness Group.