Sussex residents in 'legal blockade' of fracking site

Published on Monday, 03 February 2014 10:29
Written by Daniel Mason

A group of Sussex residents have joined the UK's first 'legal blockade' to stop a potential fracking site in the heart of one of Britain's most popular national parks.

The move comes as a direct challenge to the government after they hinted at possible changes to trespass law in order to make it easier for companies to drill under people's homes.

In a legal move that could be replicated by communities across the UK, solicitors acting on behalf of residents near the village of Fernhurst have written to oil and gas company Celtique Energie and energy secretary Ed Davey stating that they explicitly deny permission for horizontal drilling under their land and properties.

The company submitted an application to the South Downs National Park Authority in December seeking permission to drill for shale gas on a plot of land leased from a local landowner. The licence application is that of a typical fracking well, with both a vertical and a horizontal borehole – the latter usually stretching out for up to two miles below ground. But opposition from five residents whose land hems in the site from nearly all sides means that even if it found shale gas, the company would not have enough space to run a full-scale fracking well.

The announcement comes just days after media reports indicated the government was considering changing trespass law to allow fracking companies to drill under people's homes without the risk of being taken to court. Under the current legislation, shale gas prospectors need permission from landowners before drilling under their properties or must obtain special permission from a court.

The group of five Fernhurst residents who have thrown down the gauntlet include Lord Cowdray, owner of the prestigious Cowdray Park Polo Club and estate. He has already warned about the impact that 'flares, trucks and 40m tall gas rigs' will have on the national park.

Marcus Adams, another landowner who has joined the legal block, said: "People right across the country have legitimate concerns about the impact of fracking on their communities – from water contamination to air and noise pollution from heavy lorry traffic – but all this happening in a national park just doesn't bear thinking about."

He added: "Trespass law gives residents a chance to stand up to powerful corporations wanting to drill under their homes, but now the government wants to take this protection away from them. Many Tory voters here will be baffled by a government ready to bend the rule of law and chip away at homeowners' rights to clear a path for the industrialisation of our countryside."

Greenpeace launched a mass legal block against fracking in October that has now the backing of about 25,000 people from around the UK. A fresh survey by Nottingham University published last Wednesday showed public support for fracking has declined again, even after the all-out publicity push led by David Cameron.

Greenpeace energy campaigner Anna Jones said: "As ministers' desperate charm offensive on fracking is given the cold shoulder, the Fernhurst legal blockade is likely to become a blueprint for local resistance right across the country."

She added: "Having failed to allay people's fears about the impact of fracking, the government is now ready to stack the deck against them in the looming legal battle over shale drilling. With one hand ministers are bribing councils to soften opposition; with the other they're stripping away long-established legal protections from homeowners. This is a very perilous path to take with next year's general election looming."

A public consultation launched by the South Downs National Park Authority on Celtique Energie's drilling bid triggered thousands of complaints, causing the park's official website to crash under the overwhelming response. The park authority is expected to take a decision on the Celtique application in March.

Source: Greenpeace

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