ClientEarth wins right to appeal recent High Court decision which upheld planning approval for 3.6GW project
The UK government looks set to find itself in court once again over its decision to green light plans for Europe's largest gas-fired power station in North Yorkshire, after environmental NGO ClientEarth yesterday said it has won the right to appeal the move on climate change grounds.
In May the High Court ruled that then-Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom acted lawfully in granting planning permission for energy firm Drax to develop a new 3.6MW gas-fired power plant on the site of an old coal station in October last year, which saw her overrule advice to the contrary from the UK's planning authority.
The Planning Inspectorate had opposed the project, warning it could lock-in high carbon infrastructure at the expense of the UK's climate goals, marking the first time it had opposed a major project on such grounds. It also argued wind and solar power would be more cost-effective for bill payers compared to new gas power capacity.
In January, environmental law group ClientEarth then launched a legal challenge against Leadsom's decision, which it claimed was at odds with the government's own climate change plans and the UK's statutory target to decarbonise its economy to net zero by 2050.
It argued that once fully operational, the Drax project could account for up to 75 per cent of emissions from the UK's electricity sector, and that as co-hosts of the critical COP26 climate change summit the UK should demonstrate global leadership in phasing-out fossil fuels.
The High Court rejected ClientEarth's claims, but yesterday the green lawyer group - which has fought numerous environmental cases against the government - announced the Court of Appeal had granted permission to contest the judgement.
ClientEarth in-house lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said it was continuing to fight the Drax gas plant project as "it is crucial these projects to 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," he said. "We strongly believe that they do so and look forward to arguing our case in the Court of Appeal."
The government declined to comment, citing the matter as a subject of ongoing legal proceedings.
Drax, meanwhile, said the development of the new gas fired-unit at its Yorkshire power plant was "subject to the outcome of this legal challenge and the project securing a Capacity Market agreement to underpin the investment needed".
The firm - which has set a target to become a "carbon negative" company by 2030 by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than its operations produce - has previously said the gas plant would play a vital role in the UK's energy system as well as helping to support statutory climate change targets.
The energy firm wants to build four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) at the plan in Selby, North Yorkshire, to replace its existing two coal-fired units, ahead of the government's proposed coal phase-out in 2024. If the company installs the 3.6GW it has secured planning permission for, Drax's conversion would create Europe's largest gas power plant.
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