Campaigners in High Court legal challenge over fracking

Fracking protestors outside the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Fracking protestors outside the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Environmental campaigners are set to bring the latest legal challenge over fracking at the High Court.

Friends of the Earth and Talk Fracking claim the Government’s new planning guidance is unlawful because it was introduced without carrying out a public consultation or an assessment of its potential environmental impact.

They are challenging the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published in July and requires planning authorities to “recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development” and “put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction”.

Friends of the Earth have previously expressed concern that the NPPF makes it “virtually impossible” for local authorities to turn down proposed fracking schemes.

At a three-day hearing beginning on Tuesday, Mr Justice Dove will hear arguments from campaigners and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the lawfulness of the new guidance.

Before the hearing on Tuesday morning, fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood and her son, Talk Fracking founder Joe Corre, will enact an alternative nativity scene outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, with Dame Vivienne dressed as an angel and Mr Corre as a shepherd.

In a statement ahead of the hearing, Dame Vivienne said: “Democracy isn’t working. Eighty per cent of British people don’t want fracking. Our Government is overriding public opinion and local government, poisoning God’s world.”

Mr Corre added: “Like we’ve seen so much of with this Government, they have tried to bend and break their own laws.

“So desperate are they to make fracking easier for their friends in the fossil fuel industry, they have tried to bypass local government objection, scientific facts and the will of the people.

“Fracking is totally and utterly out of step with the times. We are now in a major climate emergency. We must put an end to this total and utter madness and keep it in the ground.”

Will Rundle, Friends of the Earth’s head of legal, said: “The Government’s national planning framework, which directs development in every single community in England, has never been environmentally assessed.

“This makes a mockery of the Government’s green credentials and undermines sustainable development.

“In reality, the Government simply does not know how much damage its national flagship planning policy could cause.

“The Government’s failure to undertake any environmental assessment of its national planning policy not only dangerously threatens our already warming climate and is, we believe, unlawful, but shows contempt for people and planet.”

The case is the latest in a series of recent court cases involving fracking.

Last month, Friends of the Earth brought a High Court case against the Environment Agency over the techniques used to treat waste water at Cuadrilla’s controversial Preston New Road site.

In October, three anti-fracking protesters who were jailed for causing a public nuisance by climbing onto lorries at that site were freed after the Court of Appeal found their sentences were “manifestly excessive”.

And, earlier the same month, Lancashire resident Bob Dennett unsuccessfully tried to get a High Court injunction to block Cuadrilla from fracking at Preston New Road.

Cuadrilla began the fracking process at Preston New Road in mid-October, shortly after Mr Dennett’s case was thrown out, and announced in November that shale gas had begun flowing at the site for the first time.

But the company has been forced to halt operations on several occasions – including twice last week – after underground tremors were detected.

Mr Corre is also challenging a High Court injunction obtained by energy firm Ineos against “persons unknown” to prevent “unlawful” protests at several of its sites.

His appeal is due to be heard in March 2019.

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