A residents’ group claimed victory tonight in its legal challenge over security fencing at Europa’s oil site near Leith Hill in Surrey – before the case even got to court.
Leith Hill Action Group had sought a judicial review against the approval by Surrey County Council of Europa’s application for fencing and additional buildings at Bury Hill Wood.
Tonight the group said in a newsletter to supporters:
“We have enormous news about the judicial review of the permission for security fencing. We have won!”
The group had been raising money to pay for a court hearing at which it would make its case against the council.
But the newsletter said:
“Surrey County Council have had to throw in the towel and admit we were right.”
Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) said the council had signed a consent order. The court will quash the decision made in October 2017 to approve Europa’s application. LHAG said the county council had paid back all the group’s costs.
The council’s move means Europa no longer has permission to erect the fencing and buildings for security purposes or to enlarge the site beyond what was approved in 2015, LHAG said.
This is the latest setback for the Bury Hill Wood site, which has been through seven years of planning disputes and is still waiting for the approval of a traffic management plan (See today’s DrillOrDrop report).
The case centred on whether Europa should have been allowed – as it did- to apply for extra fencing and buildings as a separate stand-alone planning application.
The original consent for oil exploration at the site included a condition which said there should be no additional fences or buildings.
But Europa claimed that the fencing and buildings in the separate application was for mineral extraction. Under Green Belt planning rules, a few types of development, including oil and gas working, are allowed. By tying the fencing to oil exploration, the fencing could be considered as not necessarily inappropriate.
To avoid being considered inappropriate, developments allowed in the Green Belt, such as mineral extraction, have to maintain openness. Surrey County Council officers, in a report to the October 2017 planning committee, said there would be “some harm to the openness of the Green Belt”. But the report concluded (p103):
“The long term characteristics and purposes of the Green Belt would not be materially compromised such to make the development proposal inappropriate development.”
Officers recommended the application be approved and councillors voted by seven in favour and two against (DrillOrDrop report)
LHAG challenged the officers’ arguments in its request for a judicial review.
The group explained:
“We said that a standalone application for a fence is not “mineral extraction” and therefore it is inappropriate development.
“We furthermore said that if Surrey County Council agree there is “harm to openness” it must be inappropriate development regardless of whether or not the development is for “mineral extraction”.
LHAG said the council had agreed that since there would be harm, the development must be inappropriate.
If Europa wanted the extra security fencing and buildings it would now have to apply on proper grounds, LHAG said.
The group added:
“Although it is fantastic to win, we are sorry that it has taken the threat of a Judicial Review to get Surrey County Council to properly review the legal basis for its planning decision on this part of such a controversial development.
“We tried so many times to engage with the council but, early this year, Surrey’s planning officers simply stopped discussing this or any other issue with us on any kind of meaningful basis.
“Our letters of communication simply vanished into a bureaucratic abyss.”
LHAG said it had raised £19,000 to fight the judicial review. It said this would now be used to contest Europa’s traffic management plan for the Bury Hill Wood site.
Surrey County Council responded on 19 January 2018 to DrillOrDrop’s invitation to respond to LHAG’s arguments. A council spokesperson said:
“We made a decision which we believed to comply with national guidelines – this is now with the court and as planning matters have to follow the due process, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”