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Court finds scientific evidence against fracking not taken into account by government

Fracking site

The judge also said the government had failed to carry out lawful consultation on fracking.
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The UK’s high court has found the government’s new planning guidance on fracking to be unlawful.

The environmental campaign group Talk Fracking took legal action, arguing that the updated guidance failed to take account of scientific and technical developments on the environmental impact of fracking.

Giving judgment in London on Wednesday, Justice Dove ruled that the government had unlawfully failed to consider scientific developments and had failed to carry out a lawful consultation.

Claire Stephenson, who brought the claim on behalf of Talk Fracking, said the group was “delighted that the court has agreed in part with our arguments that the government’s policy on fracking is unlawful”.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in July, says planning authorities should “recognise the benefits of onshore oil and gas development … and put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction”.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government argued at a hearing in December that that part of the new guidance was simply a restatement of the government’s previous commitment to fracking.

Campaigners, however, said “significant and material developments in the understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions arising from fracking“ had not been considered.

Dove found that “material from Talk Fracking, and in particular their scientific evidence as described in their consultation response, was never in fact considered relevant or taken into account”.

The information the group provided was “obviously material on the basis that it was capable of having a direct bearing upon a key element of the evidence base for the proposed policy and its relationship to climate change effects”, he said.

He rejected the contention that the government unlawfully failed to consider the impact of the updated NPPF on its legal obligations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Stephenson said: “The government have continually sought to ignore public opinion on fracking, despite the overwhelming opposition on a national level.

“The lack of public consultation and the unbiased support for an industry, without any substantial underlying evidence, has been a cause for concern.

“The additional acknowledgment from the judge, that climate change is a valid concern for campaigners and councils facing fracking planning applications, is a big win.”

Talk Fracking’s founder, Joe Corre, said: “I’m very pleased that the court has clarified that the government has behaved irresponsibly and recklessly with our democratic rulebook. Their pretend consultation was a farce.”

Rowan Smith, a solicitor from Leigh Day, which represented Talk Fracking, said the judgment made clear that the government had to keep climate change science under review when formulating fracking policies.

Dove dismissed Friends of the Earth’s case, that the NPPF was unlawful because it was published without an environmental assessment of its potential impact, in a separate ruling.


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