Dunsfold drilling plans to be decided again after refusal ruled “invalid”

200629 Dunsfold meeting

Members of Surrey County Council’s first virtual planning meeting refuse plans to drill at Dunsfold, 29 June 2020. Photo: Surrey County Council webcast

The decision to refuse planning permission for oil and gas exploration near the Surrey village of Dunsfold has been ruled invalid following problems during a “remote” council meeting.

Five weeks ago, councillors voted by six votes to five against plans by UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) to drill and test vertical and sidetrack wells, overruling the recommendation of council planning officers.

The meeting was the first remote session of the committee, where members took part by video link from home.

The live feed of the meeting repeatedly dropped out and one member of the committee could not be heard.

The application will now be brought back to a future meeting of the planning committee – probably on 17 September – to be decided again

In correspondence today, the council’s monitoring officer, Paul Evans, said there was:

“a significant likelihood that the irregularities arising from the technical difficulties at the meeting on 29 June 2020 render the resolution to refuse invalid and would render any notice of refusal unlawful.

“The most appropriate and fairest course of action is to take the application back to committee. This is what the Council has decided to do.”

Mr Evans added:

“In the circumstances the Council will in due course resubmit the application to the Planning and Regulatory Committee to be redetermined afresh with full entitlement given to members of the public and the applicant to make or remake their statements orally and with full provision for debate by members.”

A spokesperson for UKOG said:

“We welcome the chance to restate why the low-impact Loxley project is of material local and national economic importance, is fully compliant with Net Zero, and presents minimal local business, local highway and environmental impacts.

“We trust that the 17 September re-run will result in a decision fully commensurate with the facts presented, natural law and fair democratic process.”

A spokesperson for Protect Dunsfold, which opposes UKOG’s plans, said:

“Obviously we would prefer that this decision had stood but it is clear from the statement issued by Surrey that this has been referred back on legal advice because of technical problems on the day.

“We have every reason to expect that the Committee reaches the same decision for the same planning policy reasons when it is referred back to Committee and we see no reason why it shouldn’t do so.”

200513 View from site to High Billinghurst Farm 2

View from the proposed site towards High Billinghurst Farm. Photo: High Billinghurst Farm


UK Oil & Gas plc complained to the council that there had been deficiencies in the decision-making process at the meeting and asked for the application to be redetermined. DrillOrDrop understands there were also complaints from members of the public.

The complaints included:

  • The live stream of the meeting dropped out
  • Part of a speech by a councillor in favour of the plans may not have been heard by participants
  • A councillor speaking in favour may not have been heard by another councillor who was “waiting in the lobby” to access the meeting
  • A councillor could not be heard and had to use hand gestures and the private chat function to register his vote. He also appeared to be away from this screen at one point during the meeting.
  • Some councillors were helped by people who were not members of the committee

On some of these complaints, the council’s barrister concluded the meeting may have breached regulations:

“these were issues of greater concern, particularly given the close vote by which the resolution was passed.”

Surrey’s planning procedures require committee members to decline to vote unless they were present when an item was discussed. Under the remote meeting regulations, members are not deemed to be present unless they could hear and be heard.

The barrister said:

“There were times during the consideration of the application at the meeting when members would not be considered to be in attendance as a matter of law.”

One councillor may also have been deterred from seeking the opportunity to speak because of problems with the technology.

The barrister concluded:

“there was a significant likelihood that a Court would declare the resolution as invalid and unlawful, not least in light of the clear consequences of the Regulations.”

Other issues raised in complaints were “not necessarily fatal on their own”, the barrister said, but “would not help the impression that would be received if the matter went to Court”.

These included:

  • Lack of a summary of the salient points of the debate before the decision
  • Occasions where other household members appeared on screen with councillors, leading to potential suspicion of inappropriate influence from people not attending the meeting
  • Councillors used a private chat function to pass messages to each other during the meeting

The barrister said:

“Whilst it may well be the case that family members were simply assisting with the technology, there is the risk of a perception of unfairness.”

The investigation dismissed complaints that specific councillors breached the council’s code of conduct and planning protocols. The barrister concluded:

“All issues raised were due to the meeting being undertaken remotely with members being at home in the proximity to other household members to assist in the use of IT equipment or due to technical errors with equipment.

“This was a new experience for members and it is appropriate that if members found themselves in a position where it could appear there were alleged breaches of the code/protocol, that these be addressed with further training in how remote meetings must be conducted rather than any formal investigation.”


29 replies »

  1. The statement “fully compliant with Net Zero,” by a spokesperson for UKOG is simply wrong. A study by world-leading scientists, published in Nature, has shown that to limit Global warming to 2 deg means “less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can still be emitted up to 2050”. In other words we can only use half of what has already been discovered. Finding new reserves of oil and gas is completely inconsistent with meeting carbon emission targets.
    Reference: Meinshausen, M., Meinshausen, N., Hare, W. et al. Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 458, 1158–1162 (2009).

    • S.Baker – it’s the amount of oil and gas that we use that is important not the amount that we find. You’ve already argued that we can use less than 50% of what we have found so the focus should be on cutting consumption but I guess that’s too difficult for you to address.

      • Well you “guess” wrongly. I see that you frequently resort to being patronising and making assumptions about other people’s views. This is a common reaction of people who’s position is weak. It’s rather dangerous when you do not know the background or level of expertise of the people you try to patronise (which seems to be most people you reply to).
        Of course it’s ultimately about cutting the amount of fossil fuels burnt. That is what I said so thank you for agreeing with me. Your previous statements about how this exploitation plan will result in negative carbon emissions are unsupported. Perhaps you would like to provide some factual evidence. The premise that consumption cutting is supported by more extraction is counterintuitive at the very least. If you believe that O&G companies are going to sit on existing reserves and not exploit them please explain where this faith comes from.

        • S.Baker, in wrote absolutely nothing about negative carbon emissions. I simply pointed out that we cannot use all the fossil fuels that we have already discovered. So that implies to meet climate targets we must limit consumption. If that’s the case, I see no reason why the fossil fuels that are used in the U.K. shouldn’t be produced in the U.K. instead of buying them off dodgy dictatorships with worse environmental standards than ours. But it seems you’d sooner fund Putin and increase the GHG emissions related to transport. Then again, you could just be a NIMBY

  2. Perhaps I could suggest to S. Baker that if I buy some petrol for my mower, then it is better for the environment if I purchase from my local garage, sourced and processed locally, rather than expect it to be transported half way round the world, PRIOR to that happening.

    Ever heard of local farm shops, S. Baker? How come they are better for the environment, advocated by the Greenies, but by some miracle it is not the same for other resources?!

    UN report, also penned by many scientists (goodness, they do well out of the subject), advocates local resources should be prioritized to help control climate change.

    I shall go with those scientists who indicate common sense should be utilized that will make an immediate difference rather than dogma, that won’t.

    • How predictable – a response from Martin: another crusader armed with patronisation attributing opinions to others in the vain hope of making their position stronger.
      There are many factors adding to the carbon budget of extracting energy from fossil fuels. Transportation is only a small part of that picture. If you want to persuade others try presenting a rational argument backed by evidence [edited by moderator]. You are welcome to keep your convenient and simplistic views.

      • S.Baker

        The net zero carbon emission is a target set by the UK government not UKOG which is a target to have a net zero increase in carbon emissions by 2050 if I have understood correctly compared to 1990.

        That target does not mean no carbon emissions. That target does not mean more oil & gas can be produced or used. That target is not specificity targeted at oil & gas although it may be in part a contributory factor.

        The reality is that there may be no difference in the carbon emissions oil & gas is produced in the UK or in China. The difference in reducing carbon emissions to a net minus carbon emissions comes by the oil only having a minimal transportation to the refinery & to its onward use. If it was produced in China it would still have to be transported to as refinery but then transported in high carbon emission producing transporters to bring every barrel to the Uk.

        This is where the net minus is achieved by producing oil & gas locally. The other benefits are to the government who are able to reduce the balance of payments deficit raise local & national tax takes which can be used to further reduce carbon emissions with new schemes like the one started recently to give major subsidies or pay completely for insulation, cavity wall insulation new doors or window in UK homes.

        The more of these schemes that are taken up the more efficiently oil & gas will he used & less required to be used for the purposes that it is currently used.

        The reality is that even petrol & diesel engine efficiency is far higher than it used to be which is the reason for many zero road tax rated cars which reward lower emissions vehicles.

        None of the above means any less is done, only that it is done more efficiently which could mean that the economy can grow. More oil & gas in this example can be produced & used without the increase of carbon emissions.

        The chancellor of the exchequer current favorite is ‘carbon capture’ technology that will reuse the carbons in different ways without then being left in the atmosphere to biodegrade which would take many years & the use of hydrogen to power vehicles. Hydrogen will come from gas.

        Other reduction measures may include planting trees or plants which absorb & reduce the carbon emissions & I’m sure there will be many other mitigation projects to follow.

        The Climate change commission actually advocates producing & using more indigenous oil & gas over imports especially as UK production has declined over the last few years & imports are rising.

        The UK government are the body responsible for the sale of the oil & gas licences in the UK which it still undertakes believing it will still achieve it’s net zero target.

      • S.Barker,
        The proportion of GHG emissions related to transport and compression of hydrocarbons, particularly gas, compared to their combustion, is far from insignificant as you seem to want to imply. The environmental risks of transportation of oil by ship are also significant.

      • Oh dear. Someone who thinks they can post irrational comments and not be challenged. Now, that is what I call patronizing. Funny that the Internet is seen as a safe space for what would be avoided in the pub. (Oh, and in my pub, if they change their barrel to a local supplier, then the local supplier gets the sales and the previous one either loses those sales or replaces them somewhere else. Pretty bog standard.)

        Going back to my convenient and simplistic views, if I buy my 5 litres of locally produced petrol for my mower, will I continue to purchase ANOTHER 5 litres derived from Saudi, or similar??

        Whether Saudi, or elsewhere, continue to produce that 5 litres is related to world population growth and growth in oil/gas use in other countries. You might want to try and dismiss as convenient and simplistic, because it is ermm, convenient. However, that is the reality that no end of prancing around HH addresses, and produces no answers at all. I notice you did not either with your petulant outburst. Of course, no one notices these issue can not be answered? Oh yes, they do. No one remembers the Torrey Canyon? Oh yes, they do.

        Maybe, S. Baker, you are interested in overseas ship building and/or production of fossil fuel and just see that UKOG would be a (small) competitor to your interests. That would be a logical explanation to explain an illogical argument. Not interested in that, just the illogical argument that is part of many within the “handbook”, but makes as much sense as a D. Abbott mathematics class. They also produce petulance and attempts to deflect when challenged.

        Must go and pick my french beans now. Will still eat the same quantity, but not any flown in from Kenya. Thank goodness for freezers, except an awful lot of fossil fuel used to manufacture and supply freezers!

        • Well said Martin& Simon.

          There seems to be many keyboard warriors who like to hide at the first sign of a response, they run away as they know there is no justification for many of the ridiculous comments that they make.

          • MH – I am certainly not “running away” from the comments I made ( note the “comments I made” not the comments that you three are trying to attribute to me). It clearly did not occur to you that I simply don’t visit this website on a daily basis.

            To recap the points I made: In order to meet emissions targets the world must burn less than half of the already know fossil fuel reserves.
            I also cited the reference for this work in a prestigious refereed journal. We must extract less and burn less.

            From this you assume that I would “sooner fund Putin and increase the GHG emissions related to transport” and are ” interested in overseas ship building and/or production of fossil fuel”. Then having attributed these opinions to me you accuse me of presenting an illogical argument. Well I agree that was an illogical argument that you presented.

            You are the ones trying to advocate the premise that extracting additional fuel locally will drive down consumption. Yes transportation of fuel must be considered as part of the overall carbon budget but simply stating that locally extracted fuel will make this happen does not make it true. North Sea Oil has been a (more-or-less) local source of fossil fuel for the UK for decades. It has not reduced transportation as the majority is exported around the world. Historically whenever global fossil fuel production is increased, prices fall and consumption rises (The economic data for this is readily available on the internet).
            So if you have evidence (not opinion) to back your assertion please present it. MC cited “UN report, also penned by many scientists” I have read several, perhaps you can give a specific reference? ” those scientists who indicate common sense ” any reference?

            The other point I made was that the statement “fully compliant with Net Zero,” by a spokesperson for UKOG was wrong. (MH- I did not say the target was set by UKOG). MH said the “target is to have a net zero increase in carbon emissions by 2050 if I have understood correctly compared to 1990”. In fact the target is to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050 (an earlier target was to 80% of the 1990 levels but this was strengthened ref: The Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019).
            The gov definition to fully achieve the end ‘Net Zero’ target means no Net carbon emission i.e. Carbon emissions must be matched by carbon sinks within the UK. If UKOG are planning on carbon sink technology then I must have missed that bit so please let me know where to read about it.

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