Court of Appeal to hear climate campaigners’ challenge to Drax gas power plant approval

Climate campaigners have been granted the right to appeal a High Court ruling that backed the secretary of state's decision to approve plans for Europe’s largest gas power plant.

Court of Appeal paves way for challenge to Drax power plant approval. Image: Flickr / *SHERWOOD*
Court of Appeal paves way for challenge to Drax power plant approval. Image: Flickr / *SHERWOOD*

Lawyers for environmental charity ClientEarth have argued that former business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s decision to approve Drax Power’s plans for a new gas plant in Selby, North Yorkshire, was unlawful on the grounds that it failed to adhere to national planning policy.

ClientEarth claims that the secretary of state failed to properly assess the climate impact of the project in accordance with the Energy National Policy Statement. 

However, in June, the High Court dismissed ClientEarth’s challenge to the decision, siding with the secretary of state’s conclusion that “the impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions should not carry determinative weight in the overall planning balance”.

Approval was granted despite a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate that the application should be refused and warned the project would "undermine the government’s commitment…to cut greenhouse gas emissions".

The decision marked one of only six occasions when a minister has gone against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate when determining Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, Planning has previously found.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “One of the fundamental objectives of the government’s planning policies is to avoid projects that risk locking in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.

“However, the way the secretary of state has interpreted these planning policies is stopping projects from being refused on that basis. We believe that approach is unlawful.

“As decisions on large-scale infrastructure projects across the country continue to be made, it is crucial these projects do not undermine the UK’s efforts to decarbonise by locking us into unnecessarily high carbon energy over the coming decades.

“It is therefore vital that the policies and laws central to this case allow decision makers to refuse planning approval for projects because of their climate impact. We strongly believe that they do so and look forward to arguing our case in the Court of Appeal.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

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