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Anti-fracking campaigner loses challenge over refusal by inspector to adjourn

A campaigner against fracking has failed in a High Court claim that a planning inspector’s refusal to adjourn an inquiry was a breach of the rules of natural justice.

The claimant, Les Barlow, in Barlow (On Behalf of Harthill Against Fracking) v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities And Local Government [2019] EWHC 146 (QB) was a resident of Harthill in Rotherham.

He is the chairman of an action group named Harthill Against Fracking which was formed to oppose the proposals of Ineos, the First Interested Party, to construct a well site and create a new access track to drill and pressure transient test a vertical hydrocarbon exploratory well, and carry out ancillary works on land at Harthill.

On 30 May 2017, Ineos applied to the local planning authority, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, for planning permission for the proposed development.

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Fracking 23267998 s 146x219The council failed to make a decision on the application within the prescribed time, and on 6 December 2017 Ineos appealed under s.78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Secretary of State appointed a planning inspector, Stephen Roscoe, to hold an inquiry and determine the appeal.

The inquiry opened on 24 April 2018 and closed on 3 May. The inspector issued his decision letter on 7 June 2018, allowing the appeal and granting permission subject to various conditions. These included obtaining the agreement of the council to a traffic management plan and to the number of passing places along the access route, which would have to be put in place before any development commenced.

No-one took issue with the planning inspector's conclusions, or with his reasons for reaching them.

The sole issue in Mr Barlow’s challenge under s.288 of the 1990 Act was whether the refusal by the inspector to accede to the claimant's application on the first day of the inquiry for a four-week adjournment to enable him and Harthill Against Fracking to further consider a report from AECOM, traffic management experts instructed by Ineos, and in particular the potential enhanced traffic management plan annexed to that report, was a breach of the rules of natural justice which caused material prejudice.

Mrs Justice Andrews concluded, however, that the inspector's refusal to adjourn the inquiry and the reasonable and proportionate measures he adopted instead to cater for the position of interested parties, including the claimant, did not deprive the claimant of a reasonable opportunity to challenge Ineos's case and put his and Harthill Against Fracking's opposing case on the appeal.

“There was no procedural unfairness, and there was no material prejudice. This statutory challenge must therefore be dismissed,” the judge said.

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