ClientEarth had previously explained in the inquiry that the project, if implemented, could pose a serious risk to the cost-effective decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector.
A High Court judge has reserved judgment on whether the UK government’s approval of what would be Europe’s largest gas plant was lawful, after three days of hearings.
ClientEarth, the environment law charity, has brought a High Court challenge to the decision granting planning consent for a new 3.6GW gas plant, proposed by energy company Drax Power.
During the hearing, ClientEarth’s legal team argued that the Secretary of State’s decision to approve the project, contrary to the recommendation of its own Planning Inspectorate, was unlawful.
The court heard that the UK government was legally obliged to consider the impact of the greenhouse gas emissions that the proposed large-scale gas plant could have, including in light of the UK’s net zero target.
Reducing emissions is one of the government’s fundamental objectives within its own energy policies and lawyers for ClientEarth argued that the emissions impact should have been properly taken into account when deciding whether to approve the project.
A spokesperson for the charity said: "ClientEarth stressed that the adverse impacts of plant, including its significant climate impacts, outweighed any benefits in objections made during the planning inquiry prior to the government’s decision.
"Lawyers also explained that the Secretary of State was required to assess whether the proposed gas capacity provided by the project was likely to be needed, given the relatively low level of need for fossil fuel generation established in policy.
"ClientEarth had previously explained in the inquiry that the project, if implemented, could pose a serious risk to the cost-effective decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector."
The Secretary of State’s decision to approve the project was at odds with the Planning Inspectorate, which had agreed with ClientEarth, recommending the plant be refused on climate change grounds – the first time it had done so for a nationally significant project.
The court reserved its judgment at the end of the hearing, which was held online and administered by the Planning Court, part of the Queen’s Bench Division at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from ClientEarth.