Lancashire County Council decision will be wide open to judicial review

A decision in favour of fracking would be the result of underhanded conduct by the Council and could be contested by judicial review.

The behavior of Lancashire County Council and their attitude in terms of considering the submissions by esteemed academics with regard to the dangers fracking poses for Lancashire has been both shoddy and shady.

Those behind the Officers’ Report, published 15th June 2015 by Lancashire County Council [1], have used tactics to try and smear some of the esteemed academics that submitted evidence and reports to the council rejecting fracking on scientific grounds.

David Smythe, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Glasgow, submitted written evidence but in the Officer Report, the Professor was described as “a professor who retired 18 years ago and is now living in France running a B&B.” Professor Smythe hit back saying the statement was “a calculated denigration of an expert witness”. [2]   The reports shameful remark clearly has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the submission Professor Smythe made to the council. The personal attack against Professor Smythe fails to mention that when Professor Smythe left Glasgow University 18 years ago, he was then employed as an expert geologist in the oil and gas industry for a further 10-12 years. It is in fact his wife that operates the B&B in France.

Professor Smythe said the Officers’ Report also denigrated the professional expertise and integrity of two other expert witnesses, Dr Frank Rugman and Mike Hill. The officer’s report is inadequate and misleading. In the report, a 30,000 word submission by Professor Smythe was reduced to just a few bullet points. Unjustifiable conclusions were then drawn that are no more than an uncritical repetition of the views of government agencies, including the Environment Agency.  Earlier this week, Professor Stuart Haszeldine OBE, a Professor of Geology at the University of Edinburgh, submitted his own report, which backs up the work of Professor Smythe. [3]

In his critique [4], another expert witness and human rights lawyer, Dr Damien Short (Director of the Human Rights Consortium and Senior Lecturer at the School of Advanced Study), was concerned about the democratic process of last week’s pre-meetings at Lancashire County Council, many of which were not open to the public. At the pre-meetings, the two sides were not even allowed to cross-examine each other and any questions by Councillors were left until the end.

Dr Short also criticises the planners for not mentioning a recent report by the New York State Department of Health and for not clearly identifying a full range of sources of risk.

A network of more than 850 elected officials from across New York State, which banned fracking in December, have written to Councillors in Lancashire to urge them to refuse planning permission for Cuadrilla’s two fracking applications. [5] In their letter, ‘Elected Officials to Protect New York’ urged the Lancashire Councillors to note the conclusions of the New York State health and environmental studies and ensure that the council doesn’t expose its residents to the same health risks. [6]

On Tuesday, Gordon Marsden MP wrote to Cllr Dad, Chair of Lancashire’s Development Committee, on the need for the Defra unredacted report to be considered in any fracking decision. The Information Commissioner ruled last week that the Government must release a full unredacted version of their own Defra report on the impact of shale gas. [7] They government must release the full report within 35 days of the ruling. On Tuesday, Gordon Marsden MP wrote to Cllr Dad, Chair of Lancashire’s Development Committee, on the need for the Defra unredacted report to be considered in any fracking decision.

He said ”The Information Commissioner’s decision to demand the Government does now release the full Defra report is, I would argue, a crucial factor in any decision that your Committee might wish to take on the applications for the Preston New Road and Roseacre sites. The full report was not available to your officials when they submitted their recommendations on those sites, but we now have the prospect of having it be made available by the Information Commissioner’s ruling.”

However, Lancashire Country Council are pushing Councillors for a decision despite the fact that the Defra report cannot be considered in its entirety until the government publish the report in full.

The government is doing its best to use National Planning Policy to smooth the path for this industry, limiting the grounds on which councils, like Lancashire County Council, can turn proposals down, and changing the rules so that councils will be liable for the legal fees of operators if they reject an application which is then overturned by an appeal.

This morning, legal advice was distributed to Councillors regarding the Preston New Road planning application [8], notifying Councillors that “it is highly likely that the Applicant will appeal” should they decide to refuse the application. It then warned of “a high risk that a costs penalty will be imposed upon the Council.” The purpose of this advice was to intimidate Councillors by reminding them that costly legal action would ensue should they object to the application.

The actions of the council have been unprofessional to the point that should the outcome be a decision in favor of fracking in Lancashire; it will be subject to immediate challenge by judicial review.

Talk Fracking