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High Court dismisses challenges to fracking in Lancashire

Judgment was handed down today in the High Court challenge to the first decision by the Secretary of State concerning hydraulic fracturing. The challenge was brought by two claimants: a local community group (Preston New Road Action Group) and anti-fracking campaigner Gayzer Frackman. Both claimants had participated in the 2016 inquiry in Blackpool which led to the Secretary of State's decision. They argued that the Secretary of State's grant of permission for hydraulic fracturing to take place at Little Plumpton, Preston New Road, Lancashire, was unlawful.

The Cornerstone Hydrocarbon Group has been involved with the Lancashire Fracking sites since 2015, and five members of that group represented various parties at the 2016 inquiry.

In the High Court, Preston New Road argued that the Secretary of State's decision was unlawful because it misunderstood and misapplied various local and national policies and acted in breach of natural justice by disapplying a policy that the main parties at the 2016 inquiry had agreed was relevant.

Mr Frackman argued that the Secretary of State erred because he had failed to consider the likely cumulative impacts of the proposed development by only taking into account carbon emissions from "exploration" and ignoring the indirect emissions from the production stage. He also argued the Secretary of State had acted irrationally by failing to apply the precautionary principle when considering the developer's appeal, because the public health effects of fracking are currently unknown and so cannot be regulated.

Delivering judgment, Mr Justice Dove noted that while he was satisfied that permission to bring the claim should be granted to both claimants as their cases were arguable, neither claimant's case was made out in substance. Accordingly, both claims were dismissed.

The Chair of the Preston New Road Action Group commented:

"For residents to have no say in shaping the community they live in is against the overarching commitment outlined as a key aim within the government's own National Planning Policy Framework.
...
Justice and democracy have not been observed in Lancashire. We are truly dismayed at this decision. We will now take time to reflect on the ruling and liaise with our legal counsel to advise us further. We said no and we will continue to say no. This is not the end."

Commenting on the judgment, the second claimant, Mr Frackman, stated:

"We are disappointed with the judgment of the court. Our concerns about the impact of fracking on climate change, the environment and those living in close proximity to fracking sites remain and we do not consider the regulatory system in the UK is sufficiently robust to ensure that extraction of shale gas is safe.

Moreover, it is our view that the government is simply wrong to permit 'exploratory' fracking operations when, in fact, the operations will amount to 'production in disguise'.

We are considering the judgment carefully and the question whether we should seek permission to appeal."

Ashley Bowes appeared on behalf of the Preston New Road Action Group (with David Wolfe QC). Estelle Dehon appeared on behalf of Mr Frackman (with Marc Willers QC).