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Campaigners file last minute legal bid to stop fracking on the Fylde

Bob Dennett and Helen Chuntso at the Preston New Road site
Bob Dennett and Helen Chuntso at the Preston New Road site
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Campaigners have launched legal action to halt Cuadrilla's bid to frack this week by filing an injunction at the High Court on safety grounds.

The shale gas firm has said it is now ready to carry out fracking at its Preston New Road site and work could start within days, but Bob Dennett, from Lytham has lodged an application to halt the work, saying the authorities have failed to protect local people from any emergencies that might occur at the site.

The court papers seek to stall fracking until “adequate and effective procedures are in place or until the court has otherwise determined this claim”.

The case, which is due to be heard in London on Wednesday, is being brought against Lancashire County Council, the co-ordinator of the local resilience forum (LRF), which is responsible for emergency planning.

Mr Dennett says the county council has failed to “properly to manage and regulate the environmental and health and safety risks to the local community arising from the shale gas fracking operations by Cuadrilla at the Preston New Road shale gas fracking site”.

Mr Dennett said there was no guidance in place for nearby residents and the fifteen schools within five kilometres of the drill site should there be a blow out or a gas leak.

He said: "We have been sending scores of freedom of information act requests and requests about safety procedures to Cuadrilla, Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Fire and Rescue and the police, the Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England, but have not been satisfied that they have proper emergency evacuation procedures. They have obfuscated and failed to respond.

"It is not good enough that the schools are being told just to stay in situ and keep indoors. We need a proper co-ordinated disaster plan. Accidents happen, they have done so in the US with fracking and we have no confidence in Cuadrilla given the number of breaches of their licence they have had."

Campaigner Helen Chuntso has been working with Mr Dennett on the challenge and said they believed the local resilience forum had failed to properly assess the risks from the fracking site.

She said: “Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the LRF has a responsibility to consult with people and publish what contingency plans are in place to deal with any emergency, but it has failed to do this, despite numerous requests.

“The LRF has failed to comply with its duty to publish risk assessments and plans. This would enable homes, schools and businesses to prepare for an emergency and potentially reduce or mitigate the effects of a disaster.

“In the light of these potentially serious failings of the regulators, yet again the public has no choice but to make application to the courts for proper scrutiny.”

Liz Hutchins, Friends of the Earth’s campaigns director, said: “The environmental risks of fracking are well-documented and issues regarding safety at the Preston New Road site have been raised before.

“It’s right that local people continue to highlight these concerns, through the courts if necessary."

But fracking supporters are confident the legal action will be brushed aside.

A spokesman from Cuadrilla said: "We are aware that a local anti-fracking campaigner has filed a request for the Court to issue an injunction to stop hydraulically fracturing at Preston New Road pending the determination of a Judicial Review (JR) case against Lancashire County Council. That JR claim asserts that LCC’s emergency response planning and procedures for the PNR site are inadequate.

"We remain confident that we and LCC have undertaken all necessary risk assessments and have thorough emergency response safety procedures in place. This is clearly a last ditch attempt at delaying our efforts to find a new source of much needed natural gas for the UK which is a national imperative.

"We consider that the grounds for Judicial Review are hopelessly weak and will vigorously defend any call for an injunction.

Fracking support group Lancashire For Shale Chairman, Lee Petts, said: "I'm not surprised that campaigners have decided to have one last roll of the dice with a last-ditch legal challenge, but I believe the court will agree it has no merit.

"There are countless sites across Lancashire with similar risk profiles to an operational shale gas pad - including a gas pressure reduction site just off the A583 in Kirkham surrounded by homes and businesses - that do not require emergency plans of the kind campaigners are demanding of the shale gas industry.

"I'm confident the court will recognise this and accept that the relevant authorities are adequately prepared to respond in the unlikely event of an incident at the Cuadrilla site."