A government minister and an environmental organisation are to participate in a legal challenge over the climate effects of oil production at a site in Surrey.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Friends of the Earth have been granted permission to participate in the judicial review about the Horse Hill site near Horley.
The case, brought by campaigner Sarah Finch, centres on Surrey County Council’s decision in September 2019 to grant planning consent for four new oil wells and 20 years of production at the site.
Ms Finch will argue at the court of appeal that burning oil produced at Horse Hill could emit more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over a 20-year-period. Her case is that the county council should have taken this into account.
At the time of the decision, a report by planning officers concluded that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the site’s operation (direct emissions) would not “give rise to significant impacts on the climate”. The report did not consider emissions resulting from burning Horse Hill oil (indirect emissions).
Friends of the Earth had applied to make a legal intervention to support the challenge. The secretary of state applied to be joined in order to oppose the challenge.
Ms Finch (above left), who is supported by the Weald Action Group, said the county council also failed to consider the government’s legally-binding net zero target for carbon emissions. She welcomed Friends of the Earth’s intervention:
“The fact that a leading environmental NGO is intervening in this judicial review indicates the importance of this case. It addresses national policy as well as local decision-making and Friends of the Earth have valuable expertise in the issues it raises. I am pleased that they have got involved as they have a strong record of making positive legal interventions.
“The case is all about Surrey County Council’s failure to consider the full climate impacts of the Horse Hill oil development. I believe we have strong arguments and look forward to putting those arguments to the judge.”
Katie de Kauwe, Friends of the Earth’s in-house lawyer (above centre), said:
“We are intervening in these proceedings because there is a vitally important issue at stake: that the full climate impacts of fossil fuel projects must be environmentally assessed.
“If this doesn’t happen, then how are we going to tackle the climate crisis? We believe that both common sense and the law say that carbon emissions from the actual use of the oil from the Horse Hill wells cannot be left out of the equation when deciding whether to grant planning permission. Yet that is what happened here.
“Friends of the Earth believes this decision by Surrey County Council is unlawful. We are arguing that it breaches UK environmental law, and does not show proper regard to the Government’s Net Zero Carbon emissions target, or the Council’s own declaration of a climate emergency. We are pleased to stand alongside Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group in opposing this environmentally-damaging development.”
Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day who represents Ms Finch (above right), said:
“Our client believes that Surrey County Council did not take account of the full environmental impact of this proposed development when it made its decision to give the go-ahead.
“Since the Court of Appeal ruled that policy approval for Heathrow airport expansion was unlawful, it has been very clear that there is a legal imperative for the UK planning system to ensure that climate change impacts are properly considered at all levels. In this case, which greenlights fossil fuel extraction, it is evident that this must include consideration of the Net Zero Target.”
A spokesman for the county council previously said:
“The Planning & Regulatory Committee approved the Horse Hill application as it was in accordance with the development plan and policies laid down by Government.”
The appeal court hearing will take place online on 17 & 18 November 2020.