Environmental Law News Update

November 12, 2019

In this latest Environmental Law News Update Mark Davies and William McBarnet consider the end of government support for fracking, a criminal behaviour order imposed for noise nuisance and new Forestry Commission guidance for ‘Managing England’s woodlands in a climate emergency’.


Government ends support for fracking in England

At the beginning of November the government announced that it will be withdrawing its support for fracking in England (it already being banned in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

It follows a report by the Oil and Gas Authority that concludes that ‘it is not possible with current technology to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking’. So, until further evidence can be provided that fracking (and indeed the exploratory stages of it) can be carried out safely, that appears to be that for the fracking industry.

However, not all is as it seems, just two days after the government’s announcement, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published its response to a consultation on permitted development rights for shale gas exploration. That response states:

“It should be noted that the Government has made clear in a separate Written Statement that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, and in the absence of compelling new evidence, it has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents. While future applications will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.”

The withdrawal of support by the government isn’t therefore, as it might seem at first glance, the death knell for the fracking industry in England, but rather a warning to them: absent a new way of doing things that doesn’t cause tremors, or a new way of accurately predicting the probability of those tremors occurring, you can still apply, but you’re unlikely to be consented. It should of course be noted that ‘compelling evidence’ isn’t defined anywhere.

The fracking industry in England would no doubt also point to the need to reconsider the very low limit for tremors, breach of which means they have to stop exploration, imposed in this country (0.5 of the Richter scale) compared to the higher limits in other countries (the limit in the US, for example, is 4). This low limit has demonstrably stymied the fracking industry and while it remains in place, even if the tremors are predictable, it will likely continue to do so.

The government’s announcement and report may be found here and here


Criminal behaviour order imposed for noise nuisance

In a blow to fans of playing music really loudly and generally annoying your neighbours to the point of distraction, a 55-year-old man in Manchester has been made the subject of a criminal behaviour order for repeated statutory noise nuisance offences.

Mr Taylor was reported to have blasted out music during the working week, at weekends and well into the early hours of the morning. When the CBO was imposed he had already of course been the subject of an abatement notice (which obviously he entirely ignored) leading to the seizure of his stereo equipment, TV and other accoutrements-de-annoyance on two occasions.

The CBO will last for a period of 5 years and of course comes with the possibility of time in prison if it is breached. A fine of £1,500 was also imposed.

Mr Taylor’s song of choice? ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld as used in the seminal 1996 film Trainspotting, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh. To quote the book: “Some people are easier to love when you don’t have to be around them.” Presumably Mr Taylor’s neighbours will find it easier to live without his noisy behaviour and if he can’t abide by that, he won’t be around them for much longer.

‘Born Slippy’ may be enjoyed (quietly) here


New Forestry Commission’s guide to ‘Managing England’s woodlands in a climate emergency’

New guidance has been published by the Forestry Commission to provide practical advice to landowners on ways they can better manage their woodland to combat the effects of climate change. The risk to English woodlands is made more acute by the fact that they are dominated by relatively few varieties of tree: five conifer species account for 88% of the softwood forests and five broadleaf species make up over 72% of the hardwood woodland resource.

The guidance highlights that there is a risk that natural selection processes will be unable to keep pace with environmental change. It identifies the likely impacts of climate change on England’s woodlands and recommends a range of possible adaption strategies that include planting different stocks of tree and embedding biosecurity (precautions that aim to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful organisms) in practice to the same extent as health and safety.

The guidance has been published at the same time as the launch of the Government’s new £50 million tree-planting scheme which encourages farmers and landowners to plant trees in return for payments as those trees grow. The aim is to encourage investment in carbon sequestration and to reap other ecosystem benefits such as preventing flood risk, soil conservation and boosting biodiversity.

Zac Goldsmith, the Forestry and Climate Adaption Minister, has promoted the creation of new woodland as a way of combating the effects of climate change and has stated that the government is committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022. This guidance will hopefully assist in the creation of woodlands that can survive future conditions.

The announcement and guidance may be found here and here