A Conservative-run council has been warned its decisions over some major developments could be ruled invalid if it approves an opposition move to brand fracking as “inappropriate”.

Senior North Yorkshire County Council legal officers have issued the advice to its decision-making executive ahead of it on Tuesday considering notices of motion tabled by Liberal, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors over potential fracking schemes.

The motions call for the council to agree fracking activities are inappropriate where a council has declared a climate emergency.

Read more: North Yorkshire Council approves go-ahead for "carbon-negative" masterplan

The Green motion states fracking would be in direct conflict with the council’s high-profile carbon reduction plan and its emerging climate change strategy.

The motions, which were tabled in November, follows City of York Council, with which North Yorkshire Council is set to form a combined authority to lead major decisions, voting unanimously that fracking “poses unacceptable risks to people, livestock, wildlife, the climate and the environment”.

In October, another neighbouring authority, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, voted to oppose fracking in its jurisdiction.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated his support for a moratorium on fracking in October and while there are no active planning applications to frack in North Yorkshire, energy companies have numerous licences to explore for oil and gas in the county.

However, an officer’s report to the executive meeting highlights legal implications of a council stating its opposition to fracking.

It states while the council has declared a climate emergency, it has a statutory duty to consider any applications for fracking in the county and be seen to act fairly in the decision-making process.

The report adds, if approved, the motions could give the impression that the council and its members have a pre-determined view or are biased in dealing with planning applications for fracking.”

The officer’s report warns planning decisions could be ruled invalid “by reason of pre-determination”.

It states: “A resolution of the council reflecting the terms of the proposed motion would be a public declaration of the council’s over all position on the issue of fracking. When members are sitting in a quasi-judicial role as they are with planning decisions, they have to be alert to how any views expressed by them individually or a collective view of the authority could impact their position.

“It is not just about being fair and impartial, but being seen to be so. The
legal test when considering bias is not whether there is actual bias, but whether a fair-minded observer aware of all the facts would conclude there was a real possibility of bias.”

Green councillor Arnold Warneken, who proposed one of the motions, said if councils such as East Riding could put its opposition to fracking in place, so could North Yorkshire.

He said: “It could be done in general terms rather than planning terms. You could apply the pre-determination reasoning to anything, such as statements to cut carbon. This would be a policy statement rather than a planning statement.


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“We want to move away from the extraction of any fossil fuels in our county. This is about making a statement about the council’s commitment to having an impact on climate change.

“The major impact the council can have on climate change is influencing third parties who we deal with. The council could say it would not support fracking because it goes against our strategy to reduce carbon.”