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Legal challenges to fracking planning decisions

Last week, two sets of legal proceedings were issued challenging decisions by the Secretary of State relating to hydraulic fracturing proposals in Lancashire.

Preston New Road Action Group ("PNRAG") issued an application under s.288 Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to quash the decision of the Secretary of State to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla Bowland Ltd for the construction and operation of a site for drilling up to four exploratory wells, hydraulic fracturing of the wells, testing for hydrocarbons, abandonment of the wells, restoration and associated development at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, Lancashire. It was the first time the controversial operation of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as "fracking") was considered by the Secretary of State in a planning appeal.

PNRAG, which was a Rule 6 party at the planning inquiry earlier in the year, submit that the decision was taken unlawfully by reason of a failure to correctly understand and apply the development plan and to act in accordance with the rules of natural justice.

A separate claim for judicial review was lodged by Julian Burton, a local resident, who seeks to challenge the Secretary of State's decision to re-open that part of the planning inquiry relating to exploratory fracking works near Roseacre Wood to allow Cuadrilla Elswick Limited to re-argue its highways case. The Inspector who heard the inquiry had recommended in her report to the Secretary of State that the Roseacre Wood exploratory works appeal be refused because of the severe impact the proposals would have on highway safety. The Secretary of State agreed with her conclusions, but decided nonetheless to give Cuadrilla a further opportunity to put in evidence to try to overcome the highway safety concerns.

Mr Burton's case is that the decision to re-open the inquiry when Cuadrilla has had two years and many opportunities to prove the safety of its proposals is unreasonable, unfair and affected by bias on the part of the Secretary of State.

Ashley Bowes acts for PNRAG (with David Wolfe QC), both instructed by Richard Stein at Leigh Day.

Robin Green and Jack Parker act for Mr Burton.

For further information on the Cornerstone Hydrocarbon Group, click here.