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Balcombe anti-fracking group in High Court challenge against energy company Cuadrilla

Balcombe Frack Free group go to the High Court to challenge planning permission for unconventional oil and gas exploration

12 June 2014

Lawyers acting on behalf of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) have issued legal proceedings in the High Court in the latest stage of the legal battle against unconventional oil and gas in the village of Balcombe in West Sussex, by Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited. 

The 312 strong local residents' association is taking legal action against West Sussex County Council and Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited claiming that the decision taken by the Council to grant planning permission to Cuadrilla to undertake works at Lower Stumble in Balcombe is unlawful. 

Cuadrilla who previously had permission to frack for oil and gas at the site have now been was granted permission from West Sussex County Council in May 2014 to return. 

According to the new application, permission was sought for exploration and appraisal of the recently drilled "hydrocarbon lateral borehole" together with a new 14 metre high flare on the site. 

Despite massive objection to the development, the application received 889 objections and 9 in support, permission was granted and work can now resume at the site. 

The grounds of the claim issued at the High Court yesterday (11 June 2014) lists a number of objections to the decision to grant planning permission and details repeated unsatisfactory communications with Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited.

In response to one letter from the Leigh Day, asking for information about the likely timetable for the development, Cuadrilla replied: "At this stage we do not consider it appropriate for our confidential business plans and work schedules to be disclosed to you or your clients." 

A pre-action letter was sent on 16 May 2014 to the Council and copied to Cuadrilla setting out the ways in which FFBRA considered the planning permission to be unlawful. 

These include objections to Cuadrilla's conduct during the operation of its previous activities in Balcombe including allegations of non-compliance with conditions in the past. 

The grounds of claim also consider the relevance of the scale of local opposition and alleges that the Council's' insistence that the number of representations in opposition was 'not a material consideration' as being 'simply wrong in law'. 

Ugo Hayter from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing FFBRA, said: 

"We believe that this planning permission has been granted unlawfully and flies in the face of overwhelming community opposition. 

"Our clients are greatly concerned that this operation risks polluting the aquifer and nearby reservoir. "Much more needs to be known about the potential harm drilling for unconventional oil and gas poses to the environment and the public before such swift action is taken by those who seek to gain financially from this potentially devastating rush for energy." 

Sue Taylor, 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.”

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