Plans to build Europe’s biggest gas-fired power station in North Yorkshire have been paused after environmental campaigners were given the go ahead to sue the government.
Drax was granted permission to construct the massive facility despite planning inspectors recommending ministers refuse because of its vast potential carbon footprint.
Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, waved through the proposals in October despite being told the 3.6-gigawatt plant would “undermine the government’s commitment” to climate change action.
Once fully operational, it is claimed, the facility would potentially produce some 75 per cent of the UK energy sector’s entire emissions. Energy, in total, accounts for a fifth of the UK’s carbon count.
Now, ClientEarth – a charity which uses legal means to stop what it perceives as environmental destruction – has been told by the high court it can sue ministers in an attempt to block the project. The case is expected to be heard in spring.
“With scientists ringing the alarm bells for decades, we shouldn’t need to take the government to court over its decision,” said Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer with the charity.
“The secretary of state has ignored the recommendations of her own planning authority, and her decision is at odds with the government’s own climate change plans to decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.”
He added: “As the planning inspectorate found, if this plant goes ahead the public risks a carbon budget blowout, or a huge stranded asset that would require propping up by the taxpayer, or a combination of the two.”
Drax announced its ambition to build the massive plant at its existing site in Selby in 2017.
It has consistently defended the plans since saying the company’s ultimate aim is to develop carbon capture systems so effective that, by 2030, it is a net-reducer of emissions.
And it has insisted gas power remains vital to the UK’s energy requirements until renewable sources become more reliable and sufficient for the entire population’s needs.
The Selby site, a spokeswoman added, would be just one of a “portfolio of flexible generating assets”.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has so far declined to comment on the high court’s ruling.
But the decision to allow ministers to be sued on climate change grounds comes at an especially embarrassing time: on Thursday the government is set to bring before parliament its environment bill, which is said to be a bid to underline Boris Johnson’s commitment to tackling the crisis.