Thursday, 23 August 2012

Halton Lea Gate Opencast Meeting

74 locals joined me in the village hall to discuss the surprising decision of an inspector to overrule the County Council, and allow open cast mining next to this small village on the edge of the AONB and the Pennine Way. I am only now catching up with blogging and can sit down to describe the meetings I held with the key opponents of the scheme before a longer, near 2 hour, packed village hall meeting discussed the decision. I am really grateful to everyone who came.
The paper has reported the meeting reasonably fully here:
I remain reasonably confident that the developer will not be able to satisfy the 44 conditions set by the inspector - those in relation, for example, to the preservation of the Burn and water management generally seem very onerous and expensive. I am pleased the County Council retains control over the authorisation process / agreement as to satisfaction as to the conditions.
There is no substitute for reading the Inspectors report - and we handed out over 50 copies on the day.
But the short term decision that needs to be made is whether the village challenge the decision by way of judicial review - this has been done successfully by the Friends of Bellingham Surgery against the Health Trust and also the opponents of the Prudhoe Housing Development. It is not an easy thing to do however, and is based on strict legal grounds, as opposed to a rerun of the planning decision itself.
My strong advice at both the pre meeting, at the main meeting, and in subsequent conversations with members of the parish council since, is that they need to obtain a barrister's assessment as to whether there is grounds for judicial review. This can be done for free by the Bar Pro Bono Unit, an organisation I know, and which successfully helped the Bellingham Friends in particular. I know the Parish Council has met on this Wednesday and is now taking this forward, although I have not read the application as yet.
The short term way ahead is clear: the parish council will ry and obtain a specialist barrister's opinion as to whether there is grounds for judicial review. For my part I found para 22 of the decision surprising - and open to possible challenge, given that this site abutts an AONB. This barrister's assessment needs then to be reviewed by the parish council / locals. My hope is that this can be done before the end of September.
A final decision as to whether to issue proceedings would need to be taken by November 6th = 3 months post the decision's date.
One thing is clear - the battle waged by the villagers of Halton Lea Gate against open cast mining 57 metres from their back gardens may have been lost recently, but the war may still be won.