December 21st, 2016 by James Goudie KC

 In R (Friends of the Earth) v North Yorkshire County Council (2016) EWHC 3303 (Admin) Lang J dismissed a judicial review challenge to the Council’s decision as Minerals Planning Authority to grant planning permission for fracking. There were two grounds of challenge, the principal one of which related to environmental impact.  Lang J reiterated (para 21) that it is for the authority to assess (i) what information should be in the Environmental Statement (“the ES”) and (ii) whether the information contained therein is adequate, and that the authority’s assessment can be challenged only on public law grounds. The Council had consulted (para 47) and had considered objections and taken them into account when making its decision (para 51). The Officers’ Report fairly set out the legislative and policy framework within which the decision had to be made (para 53), namely (i) European legislation on environmental protection; (ii) National legislation and policy on meeting climate change objectives by cutting greenhouse gases and moving away from fossil fuels (including gas) towards clean renewable energy supplies; (iii) National policy in favour of shale gas; (iv) National planning policy on meeting the challenges of climate change and support for a transition to a low carbon future. The Committee’s Resolution clearly evidenced the Committee’s consideration of the ES and its conclusion that the ES was adequate.

Applying the tests set out in the authorities, Lang J concluded at para 57 that she found it impossible to conclude that the Officers failed to guide the Members sufficiently, or misled them, on a matter essential to their decision. The Committee Members had specialist knowledge, as members of a Mineral Planning Authority which has multiple gas wells in its region. The ES and the Officers’ Report provided them with a detailed account of the proposed scheme. They received detailed objections to the proposal from objectors, which included the increase in greenhouse gas emissions arising from the production of gas at the Site. The real thrust of the objections was that energy requirements ought to be met by other, less environmentally damaging means than gas production and a gas-fuelled electricity generating station. This was essentially a judgment for the Committee to make. They were extensively briefed by Officers on the climate change issues, as well as the Government’s policy in favour of shale gas.

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