North Yorkshire mayor starts legal action to challenge government fracking policy statement

| 24th August 2018
Sign reading 'protect our rural economy'
Mayor of Malton Paul Andrews has started private legal proceedings against the government by applying for a Judicial Review to challenge a recent Written Ministerial Statement on fracking. MARIANNE BROOKER reports

Somebody has to stand up against the bullies in government and the greed of the oil and gas industry.

Paul Andrews, who is a member of the Ryedale District Council and Chair of Habton Parish Council, has said: “I am taking this legal action as a private individual as I consider it my duty to protect the interests of the communities I represent.

"Fracking will industrialise our beautiful countryside and destroy our rural economy and tourist businesses. Somebody has to stand up against the bullies in government and the greed of the oil and gas industry. This is about defending your property, your family’s health and your local democratic rights. Would you want full scale industrial fracking  only 300m of your home?”

The WMS, which was published on 17 May by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, sets out changes in government policy on how local planning authorities should deal with fracking applications. 

Democratic control 

Councillor Andrews sought legal advice from Marc Willers QC, and was advised that the Minister’s Statement is unlawful. He has therefore instructed his solicitors to issue proceedings for Judicial Review.

Andrews added: "The Statement seeks to impose an unacceptable level of government control on regional planning authorities, and will significantly reduce the ability of democratically elected local councils to establish their own parameters for fracking in their area.

"It is also a direct challenge to the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan, which seeks to impose modest limits on fracking in an area celebrated for its world class natural environment, high quality food production and thriving rural tourist industry.”

An online crowdfunder to support Andrews’ private legal challenge has been set up on the Crowdjustice website, and has already raised more than £14,000. You can donate to this appeal here.

Andrews added, “In particular, this Statement is clearly a direct challenge to the North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint Plan. 

Direct challenge 

This Plan, which is the result of many thousands of hours work by local officials and numerous consultees over four years, seeks to find a compromise between the interests of the oil and gas industry and the concerns of local residents, businesses, parish councils, farmers, landowners and the rural tourist industry.”

One of these modest restrictions is a requirement to establish a 500m separation distance between fracking well sites and the nearest home, school or other dwelling. 

Another is that the Plan considers any drilling operation into shale rock to produce gas as ‘fracking’, while the industry argue that it is only fracking if more than 1,000 m3 of fluid is used (which is how the government defined fracking in the 2015 Infrastructure Act).

The plan also supported the government’s promise to keep fracking drill pads out of the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

Andrews said, “These modest restrictions in the Plan did not please the fracking industry, who want unrestricted permission to do as they please wherever they hold a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL).

Modest restrictions

This is because they require grids of drill pads evenly spaced all over the fracking area at intervals of one and a half  to two miles in every direction, and think that the 500m buffer zone would “sterilise” their ability to frack.”

The WMS, which was published less than five weeks after the finalisation of the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan, includes the following directive to planning authorities:  "Plans should not set restrictions or thresholds across the plan area that limit shale gas development without proper justification". 

It instructs planning authorities to recognise the government’s definition of fracking as stated in the Infrastructure Act. The Statement also said that ‘policies should avoid undue sterilisation of mineral resources (including shale gas).’

Andrews added, “This Statement was issued unilaterally without public consultation at the whim of the government and its friends in the oil and gas industry, and has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever.

Andrews continued: "It was also issued in such haste that Secretary of State failed to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment on the proposals, as required by law.

"The Statement has already been heavily criticised by the Communities and Government Select Committee, who condemned its publication only a few days before the Committee published its own report on planning guidance for fracking.” 

This Author

Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Frack Free United. 

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