Campaigning residents have hit out at pro-fracking peer Lord Lawson as they launch a High Court battle to block planning consent for further works linked to fracking in their village.
Their QC told a judge the permission granted in May this year affecting Lower Stumble in Balcombe, West Sussex, was fatally flawed by “errors of law”.
In one of the first fracking legal challenges, the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) is asking a High Court judge in London to quash the permission granted by West Sussex County Council to energy firm Cuadrilla.
The county council is defending its decision before Mr Justice Gilbart, arguing it was lawfully made and is not open to legal challenge.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the campaigners, said planning permission was granted “despite massive objection to the development”.
Cuadrilla was allowed to return to Balcombe after previously being given the go-ahead to frack for oil and gas.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rocks.
Opponents fear it could harm water resources, cause small earthquakes, and that the development of sites would cause noise and traffic.
Environmentalists also argue extraction could contribute to man-made climate change.
In the same month the Balcombe permission was granted, former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson called for shale gas extraction to become an urgent national priority.
Before today’s legal battle began, FFBRA chairman Charles Metcalfe described the Conservative peer as the “archetypal climate change denier”.
Mr Metcalfe added: “It is astonishing he is still pedalling a now scientifically discredited line of opinion.”
Ugo Hayter, from the human rights team at Leigh Day, said: “We remain confident that the court will rule that this planning permission was granted unlawfully.
“Our clients are greatly concerned that this operation risks polluting the aquifer and nearby reservoir and flies in the face of overwhelming community opposition.”
Sue Taylor, a Balcombe resident and campaigner, said: “This planning consent sets a dangerous precedent that the concerns of the local community can be ignored even though it is their health and safety that is at risk.
“Flaring from oil wells close to residential areas poses an unacceptable threat to human health.”
Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, who is supporting the association’s case, said: “The more residents understand of the risks associated with fracking, the less they want it in their area.
“I hope the judge takes this into account and rules in favour of the majority of people who oppose fracking in the Balcombe area.”
He added: “Clean renewable energy remains the long-term answer to climate change but by giving the go-ahead to fracking, the Government is short-sightedly leading the country into a dead end energy policy.”