The latest stage in a seven year planning battle over oil drilling in the Surrey Hills is due to get underway this morning.
A public inquiry will consider for the second time whether Europa Oil and Gas should be allowed to drill an exploratory borehole near Dorking.
The company wants to drill at Bury Hill Wood, close to Leith Hill, the highest point in southern England. The site is in the Green Belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Europa first submitted the plans in 2008. Surrey County Council refused the application and the company appealed. The first public inquiry before an inspector found in the council’s favour and confirmed the decision to refuse permission.
The company then took its case to the Court of Appeal and won, quashing the inspector’s decision. A challenge to that decision, taken by Leith Hill Action Group, failed in the High Court and, as a result, the Planning Inspectorate was ordered to hold another inquiry to redetermine the case.
Since then, Europa has submitted another planning application for an underground corridor that would allow it to drill a horizontal well from the Bury Hill site.
The inquiry, at Dorking Halls, is expected to last until 1st May. It will hear from Europa Oil and Gas on one side and Surrey County Council and the Leith Hill Action Group on the other.
Europa has argued that Surrey County Council did not correctly interpret national and local planning policies when it refused permission.
Leith Hill Action Group said a successful application at Bury Hill Wood would “set a dangerous precedent and may lead to other drilling operations within the AONB”
It added: “The impact will be long-lasting on the beautiful and fragile natural environment surrounding us. This is why we have been fighting so hard for over six years”.
2008 Europa applied for permission for exploration at Burry Hill Wood, nr Leith Hill
2011 Surrey County Council refused the application. Europa appealed against the decision
2012 Planning inspector dismissed an appeal against refusal by Europa Oil and Gas
2013 Europa successfully challenged the inspector’s decision in the High Court and the inquiry’s decision was quashed
2014 Leith Hill Action Group appealed in the High Court against the judge’s decision but the case was dismissed. The case was sent back to the Planning Inspectorate for redetermination.
2015 Europa submitted a new application for an underground corridor, allowing it to drill a horizontal well from Bury Hill Wood
Europa Oil and Gas represented by London law firm Charles Russell Slpeechly Link to CRS article on the case