North Yorkshire plan approaches final hurdle

A personal message from Paul Andrews, Ryedale District Councillor and Mayor of Malton.

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for your generous support of our Crowdjustice fundraising appeal for legal representation at the recent public hearing on the North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint plan. It was only because of the donations from concerned people like you that we were able to hire an excellent barrister to argue our case in front of the Planning Inspector. I can assure you that having a top lawyer to put forward our position and argue against the highly-paid corporate lawyers of the oil and gas industry on the day was essential in defending our case, so you can be assured that your money has been well spent. If you’d like to find out more about the case, please visit the Crowdjustice page.

As for the hearing itself, there were two main issues that were discussed as regards to fracking. The first concerned the definition of fracking to be included in the plan. This depended partly on the judgement in the Judicial Review Hearing on 5th November last year, which I know many of you also contributed to – and herein lies a tale. Prior to the hearing we were told that the judge had not finalised his judgement so our legal team were not able to review it prior to the hearing. However, when we arrived at the hearing on Thursday morning, we discovered that the QC for the oil and gas industry body (UKOOG) had already been provided with a copy of the judgement, which had not been sent to my legal team. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why the judgement had been provided to the oil and gas industry lawyers prior to the hearing, but not to the legal team representing local communities … !

As our legal team had not received the judgement on the JR hearing, it was not possible to debate what the judge had said in his ruling at the hearing itself, so counsel from both sides have been asked to write appropriate legal submissions to be submitted by February 15th. Our barrister is undergoing this important task at the moment, and thanks to your generosity we have been able to fund this work through the donations you made to this appeal.

The issue which we did debate at considerable length at the public hearing was the 500m residential buffer, which would prohibit fracking within 500m of people’s homes, unless there were ‘exceptional circumstances’. This modest safeguard to protect local residents from excessive traffic, noise and air pollution was strongly challenged by UKOOG, who said that it was essential for their operation to be able to drill vertical gas wells wherever they wanted for exploratory purposes and for full production. Of course, we took a different view and our barrister put forward our case very convincingly.

UKOOG also tried to persuade the inspector that noise from drill sites could be sufficiently mitigated to allow them to drill close to schools, homes and hospitals. They suggested the noise of the top drive of drill rigs could be reduced in some way. However, we referred them to their own statement, where, amongst other things, the reasons for not being able to attenuate noise from drill rigs were laid out in full, including the fact that the top drive of a rig could not be enclosed in case gas accumulated there and caused an explosion.

The inspector will issue her report in a few weeks, after she has made some site visits and received the legal submissions discussed above. Any substantial modifications will then have to go out for consultation, and when this is complete, the authorities will be able to formally adopt the plan, possibly during the summer. Any objection to the adoption has to be made on application to the High Court within 6 weeks of the date of adoption So there is still some way to go before this is finalised. and the possibility of legal challenges to the final plan cannot be discounted.

I hope this briefing has helped to keep you informed about the case and how your money is being spent, and I will of course update you when we have further news. Thank you again for standing with me to project the safeguards against fracking that are within the Yorkshire Plan, which may be used as a . We simply couldn’t continue the fight for our communities’ rights without your generous and continued support.

Best wishes

Paul Andrews

PS You can read press reports about this case in the Northern Echo and the Gazette and Herald.