Opponents of plans to drill for oil near the Leith Hill beauty spot in Surrey have begun legal action against the county council.
Leith Hill Action Group has initiated a judicial review to challenge the permission granted by the council’s planning committee for fencing, buildings and equipment at Europa’s oil exploration site.
The committee followed the advice of planning officers and approved the application for Bury Hill Wood at a meeting in October (DrillOrDrop report).
Opponents, including the local county councillor, said the scheme would increase the footprint of the site by 25%. They said the structures were incompatible with the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and were inappropriate development of the green belt.
Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) has argued that the proposal was a “significant alteration” of the original planning permission granted by an inspector after a public inquiry in 2015.
LHAG said the fencing scheme should not have been dealt with as a standalone application. Instead, the original planning permission should have been amended or a fresh application submitted for the entire drilling project, LHAG said.
‘The group said today:
“We believe our case is about as strong as a legal challenge can be.”
The group is seeking to raise £25,000 for the costs of taking the case to the High Court.
This is the second challenge facing the council on the Bury Hill Wood site.
Earlier this week, Europa said it would take action over delays to the final approval of its traffic management plan. Surrey’s planning committee has twice deferred a decision on the plan, most recently because it wanted more information.
The company said it was appealing to the planning inspectorate against the non-determination of the plan. DrillOrDrop report
Today, LHAG described Europa’s appeal as a “breath-taking piece of irony” and the company’s traffic management plan as “horribly flawed”. It said:
“The irony could not be stronger, given that all delays are entirely of Europa’s own making.”
The group added:
“We think that this appeal presents a golden opportunity for LHAG.
“By forcing the issue, Europa have potentially given us a chance to lay all the evidence out directly to the Planning Inspectorate.
“We think the Inspectorate will come to the same conclusion as us; namely, that the Traffic Management Plan as it is currently written is badly flawed.
“Once the Inspectorate lays this out in writing, Europa will be forced to alter any future attempts at a Traffic Management Plan to avoid such flaws. And as we have maintained for the last eight years, we don’t think this is even possible.”