Friday, October 5, 2018

News: High Court date over Rotherham test drilling decision

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A community group has been granted a hearing date in its legal battle to overturn a planning inspector's decision to approve proposals for a test drilling well in Rotherham.

Rothbiz reported in April that the oil and gas exploration and production business, INEOS, submitted an updated travel plan regarding its proposed development at Harhill, leaving Rotherham Council in a difficult position just weeks before a public inquiry.

The inquiry took place in June and Harthill Against Fracking (HAF) group say that because of the late evidence and their outstanding request for an adjournment, which was not decided upon until the first day of the hearing, they did not know the full case they had to meet until the inquiry had started. Consequently, they were unable to adduce evidence or make submissions, informed by an expert, in relation to opposing INEOS' case.

Having been given the "hurry-up" by Government, INEOS appealed to the Planning Inspectorate over the non-determination of the application for a drilling rig on Greenbelt land between the villages of Harthill and Thorpe Salvin. It said it had encountered "unreasonable delays" in dealing with Rotherham Council.
The company is hoping to carry out tests on the suitability of the area for hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
The Council's transport planner had to put forward the authority's reasons for refusal focusing on highways issues at the inquiry whilst having the professional opinion that the updated mitigation proposals would mean that the application could be approved.

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The group has been given permission for a statutory review under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 of the decision of the Secretary of State, given by his planning inspector. HAF is asking the court to consider whether, in refusing the request to adjourn the planning inquiry, the inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice.

The hearing will take place on November 13 at the High Court in London as it has been categorised a "Significant Planning Court Claim."

Les Barlow, chairman of HAF, said: "Our group of local residents is very concerned about the impact of fracking on our local community and environment and we were keen to be part of the planning process to voice our concerns. We hope that the court will acknowledge that, as a result of the Planning Inspector's decision to admit the late evidence and refuse an adjournment, the original planning inquiry was unfair and we hope that the court will order a fresh inquiry so that we can properly argue our case."

Anna Dews, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added: "Our client believes the planning Inspector's decision was wrong in law because the Inspector acted in breach of the rules of natural justice. By admitting key evidence, served on our client by INEOS only ten days before the inquiry started, and about which our client was unable to respond properly, we believe the inspector breached the common law.

"The judge who granted permission, also provided our client with an Aarhus environmental costs cap. This is an important step forward not only for our client but also other groups campaigning to protect the environment."

Images: INEOS / Turley

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