Campaigners are seeking to go to court over this month’s planning consent for oil production at Horse Hill in Surrey.
The Weald Action Group said it would be challenging Surrey County Council’s decision to approve 20 years of production and four new oil wells at the site near Gatwick Airport.
Members of the council’s planning committee voted on 11 September by seven to two to approve the application by a subsidiary of UK Oil & Gas plc, despite opposition from local residents.
Weald Action Group told a public meeting in Horley last night that it would seek a judicial review of the decision on three grounds: climate change, local earth tremors and developments in the green belt
The challenge would need to prove that the council acted unlawfully in the way it took the decision.
Lorraine Inglis, of Weald Action Group, told the meeting:
“We think that we have a strong case. This is the only way we can look at stopping UK Oil & Gas drilling their wells. To have up to 20 years of oil production in a time of climate emergency is just crazy.”
The group is now fund raising and seeking a local resident to bring the case.
Chris Lowe, of Norwood Hill Residents Association, urged people to support the challenge:
“This our area. This is our place where we live. This is our livelihood. We want to protect it. We have got to protect the amenity of this area.”
Local resident Sarah Finch said:
“A lot of people spent a lot of time writing very detailed, well researched submissions [to Surrey County Council] about this application, particularly on earthquake risk and climate change.”
But she said these submissions were not reflected in the planning officer’s report to committee members, which recommended approval.
Ms Finch said the section of the report on climate change relied on out-of-date documents which were published before the Paris climate agreement and the UK’s binding commitments on reducing carbon emissions.
The report also dismissed concerns about seismic events in the area near Horse Hill. Since 1 April 2018, there have been 170 tremors centred on the village of Newdigate, 13 of which they were felt.
Lynette Kaufman told the meeting:
“Surrey County Council has repeatedly argued that seismicity is not a planning responsibility.
“This issue was raised by councillors at the meeting but their concerns were dismissed and their questions were not answered.
“The area is now an earthquake-prone area. Four more oil wells and one water reinjection well can only exacerbate this. The committee should take this seriously, rather than ignore it.”
Ms Kaufman said the officer’s report did not acknowledge that a 3D seismic survey had not been carried out. It also did not note that the earthquakes were continuing, with four this month.
“The only way the information reached the councillors was by direct mailing before the meeting.”
The meeting also heard that very special circumstances were needed to justify approving industrial development in the green belt.
Ms Finch said the only argument put forward by UK Oil & Gas was the need for oil But this is out of date, she said. The demand for oil was reducing.
- Last year, Surrey County Council chose not fight a legal challenge by another campaign group over a different oil site in the green belt. This case centred on the council’s approval of plans by Europa to install fencing and buildings at a proposed oil exploration site near Leith Hill.