Council defends decision to allow 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill – day 2 judicial review

Surrey County Council told the High Court today it had acted lawfully in granting consent for two decades of production at the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick Airport.

Horse Hill, Surrey, 17 November 2020. Photo: Helena Smith

The council was defending its planning permission against a legal challenge by local campaigner, Sarah Finch.

She argued that the council should have considered the full climate impacts before making its decision. DrillOrDrop report of day 1

The case centred on whether the council should have taken into account the effects of burning Horse Hill oil – the downstream or indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Early in the planning application process, the council recommended that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) should consider the global warming potential of long-term oil production. But officials later accepted the developer’s argument that an assessment on downstream or indirect emissions was not needed.

Ms Finch and Friends of the Earth said the council had acted unlawfully and the planning permission should be quashed.

Lawyers for the council, a government department and the site operator urged the court to dismiss Ms Finch’s claim.

A key argument was whether the indirect greenhouse gas emissions were an effect of the development or an effect of the product of the development.

Richard Moules, for the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said:

“the council was reasonably entitled to conclude as a matter of planning judgment that GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from the future combustion of produced hydrocarbons were not effects of the Development and therefore they did not need to be included in the EIA for the purposes of the planning decision-making process.”

Harriet Townsend, for Surrey County Council, said it was unknown whether emissions from burning the oil would add to global greenhouse gases or whether they would be offset by lower production elsewhere.

“All we know about the product of this development is that it will be put somewhere out into the market place and that the way it is used or disposed will have an effect on the environment. It is not an effect of the production of that product.

“This case did not require an assessment of the indirect greenhouse gases and the total cannot be known because it depends on the market.”

She said the site operator, Horse Hill Developments Limited, had no control over the downstream emissions and could not do anything to reduce their effects.

She also rejected the argument that the council’s decision would have been different if the emissions from burning Horse Hill oil had been taken into account. She said:

“Had SCC [Surrey County council] required an assessment of combustion emissions within the ES [environmental statement], it is highly likely that any impact on the climate caused by those emissions would not have been judged to be significant.”

She said the planning committee the granted planning permission for Horse Hill was “well aware” that oil production would result “in due course” in greenhouse gas emissions. She said:

“the uncertainties inherent in any such assessment are so pervasive that it would have been highly likely that SCC would have given it limited weight in the decision-making process”

David Elvin QC, for Horse Hill Developments Limited, said the councillors who granted planning permission had concerns about greenhouse gas emissions but he added:

“It is clear that members felt the arguments of need [for oil] outweighed these concerns.”

He said emissions from Horse Hill oil would be “indistinguishable from the contributions of alternative sources of oil” and, he argued, their environmental impacts “could not be quantified”.

Mr Elvin added that the council could rely on other regulators to control emissions.

“These non-planning regimes regulate hydrocarbon development and other downstream industrial processes and decision-makers can assume that these regimes will operate effectively to avoid or mitigate the scope for material environmental harm.”

Summing up for Ms Finch, Marc Willers QC said the combustion of oil was an indirect effect of the development. The council’s decision might have been different if the indirect emissions had been taken into account:

“[the council] may well have decided to refuse the application for planning permission, or at least reduced the period over which Horse Hill Developments Limited would be permitted to produce oil.”

He said there was no regulation of downstream emissions of oil used in transportation, so the council could not rely on non-planning regulators.

Mr Willers added that global warming must be addressed urgently, both nationally and locally:

“Dangerous climate change should be addressed by government policy but it should also be addressed by a mineral planning authority, [in this case] weighing in the balance the indirect greenhouse gas emissions from burning the oil.”

The judge, Mr Justice Holgate, reserved judgement and did not give a time limit for his ruling. He described the case as “very interesting” and “very important”.

Additional hearing

BBC journalists from a regional news programme have been ordered to attend the High Court tomorrow after a small extract of the online hearing was recorded and broadcast on 17 November 2020, in breach of the law.

Mr Justice Holgate said he wanted the journalists to explain the circumstances behind the broadcasting.

The additional hearing is at 10.30am at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London.

20 replies »

  1. Did the poster of the above banner consider the amount of gas emission resulting from it’s production. The printing used was almost certainly a byproduct of oil toghter with a percentage of the canvas used. Eco warriors maybe, N.I.M.B.Y. certainly, first and foremost.

  2. Disassociation seems to be the name of the game. SCC’s defence seems to be that as far as planning legislation is concerned the production of oil has nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions. Who believes that?

    • Certainly not Harriet Townsend, Alex.

      She made a perfectly sensible contribution, which I believe.

      Maybe you missed that bit to get to your “seems”, but it seems to me that is not disassociation.

      Read the comments around the Wressle Enquiry and you will see this has previously been addressed, and Harriet’s point has been made before.

      UK has produced a LOT of oil over the past 20-30 years, much more than HH ever will. I see little sign that has done anything for UK consumption of oil-thus emissions-but certainly has lowered imports of oil. So, yes, when volumes are big enough to be really obvious, such as from N.Sea, the factual history is already showing that UK does import less oil when it produces more of it’s own. Whether oil that would have come in as imports is still produced, or not, is a matter for other countries to deal with.

  3. For once I wish to thank Drill or drop for your reporting today. I often find a bias with your reporting which is often far from objective, but today I find in your report the underlying reasons that this challenge will fail & fail it will.

    The reason it will fail is that there is a difference between emissions produced from the production of oil which are regulated by the various authorities & mitigation put in place on site eg. flaring, gas to wire etc. & the product which has it’s own regulation having been produced which is most noticeable in the transportation which Sarah Finches legal council has failed to understand.

    Let me explain; The produced oil is stored on site prior to being transported by oil tanker. The oil tanker & its cargo is regulated in this instance by the 1267 plates for crude oil & if the product in the tank is
    ( Non hazardous, irritant, Corrosive, Toxic or very toxic) & the relevant chemical symbols.

    The oil is transported to an oil refinery & the refining process is what will split the oil into thousands of different parts which will be used with other components in thousands of uses from cleaning chemicals, tar for the roads, plastics, oil for lubrication, oil for car engines, petrol, diesel & thousands of other products. Many do not need to be burnt & the refining process & the individual uses of the product through chemical labeling manufacturer instruction on usage, dilution & disposal which may be harmful going to the sewer if not disposed of correctly. eg. oil disposal from food premises although vegetable oil is licensed for collection & disposal by the local authority through authorised collectors who reprocessed for soap, animal feeds etc. But prevents oil being disposed of incorrectly & damaging the environment through the drains, sewers, Reid beds & rivers. Chemicals sold with manufactures instructions are covered by there own legislation (COSHH) Control of Substances Hazardous to Health & other uses will likewise have there own control measures.

    The key question here is following the refining process if any new legislation is needed or not for what may only be a small handful of products of 1000 products that will be produced that will be burnt & produce the emissions. The reality is that the key products where emissions are produced are monitored by eg. car engine size, the types of fuel used & emissions tests during MOT being within allowable levels. There has been progress in this arena with governments providing incentives for lower emission vehicles & manufacturers making cars more efficient. But there are now more changes on way with electric vehicle production & the phaseout of the combustion engine. New building regulations for houses not to has gas boilers installed & I assume we will see the current gas boilers systems needing to be upgraded to hydrogen gas boilers.

    The change you seek are on the way with the transition but the world will not stop while it happens & new technology & infrastructure is still required in the transition period.

    • Just to help clarify I am sure it can be called the oil chain as is the food chain in the food industry which runs from farm to fork with it relevant regulators at every level.

      What we have not seen in this appeal is where the regulation has broken down?

    • Oh Wizard it’s funny how you look at everything differently when you invest your pennies in a company like UKOG, maybe you will get back some of your losses but it doesn’t look like it tbh . Horse Hill is just another Broadford Bridge . Do you honestly think that they wouldn’t have had a huge amount of oil out by now if it was anything like a gusher. You’ve all been and continue to be had over and only more BS to come .

    • As a Stanford paper ( ) conceded in August 2018, and as MH argues, societies remain heavily dependent on crude oil and “it’s not very feasible to get rid of this energy resource in one night or in one year”. MH will no doubt agree. “The question” the paper points out “is how to accelerate [the] transition”.
      As emissions result from many of the purposes to which crude oil is put, and as the storage, production and transportation of the crude is also implicated in the emissions, these are surely considerations which the planners ought to have heeded in their duty not to impede the transition. It is unacceptable for planners not to consider the fact of a contribution to global warming whilst passing the buck to regulators. It is unreasonable to expect planners to quantify (assess the size of) the risk. Responsibility for the fact of pollution, however, must rest with the producers and those permitting production.
      A 2004 UN pact outlawed the production of a selection of dioxins, pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) because of their potential to poison. Their production was not authorised with responsibility for their effects passed to regulators. Perhaps there is a relevant parallel here.

      • You were doing so well until you gave in to the lure of the fantasy!

        There is NO impeding of transition by HH. Transition will continue. Local oil replacing imported oil will NOT impede anything. It could actually provide UK tax that could be spent on accelerating transition, or the NHS or whatever.

        Will the increased utilisation of oil at Fawley to make artificial rubber to supply extra requirement during the pandemic impede transition?

        I have heard this nonsense about impeding transition many times. It is nonsense. There is no indication transition is being impeded. It is plonked out there as a fact. It is not. Transition will be more likely accelerated if new technologies do have to compete against existing ones, as that will reduce cost (off shore wind) and then consumers will be convinced and buy in. Boris has been, and see the result. Perhaps the Swansea Lagoon would be underway if that philosophy was followed?

        The silliness that is within the XR handbook of forcing a lot of people to do what some other people want is a fantasy, and that is what may very well impede transition.

      • Iaith1720

        The only emissions in the oil transportation are from the oil tanker on the road not the produced oil.

        At this stage I’m not sure we have electric lorries to make that journey but certainly a lot less emissions & better for the UK economy than importing foreign oil.

        • Iaith1720

          Just to clarify the transport emissions of the tanker are monitored downstream by the department of transport so why do you think there is a requirement for Surrey council to present those emissions to the planning committee ?

  4. Looks as if the BBC are AGAIN in trouble around HH!

    Plus Dianagate.

    Bit of a conflict between their desire to create vitriol and their responsibility to present news. Mind you, that was detailed in the radio program about reporting during the Cuadrilla episode. Seems there is quite a lot for the new BBC management to do.

    Many of my relatives and neighbours have told me they no longer watch BBC news as it is too exhausting to try and extract the little bit of news from the mass of speculation. Then, they seem to have become bored of the leading question technique, and replaced it with, “would you say”, and then the full details of a biased comment that should be said. I still watch occasionally, in the hope, that someone will reply, “yes, because that is what you briefed me to say”, or better still, ” I thought this interview was for me to provide you with my view”.

    Just lock them up Mr. Justice. A fine will only worsen existing standards. A caution will be a badge of honour.

    • Hi MH. The transportation sector has been responsible for well over a quarter of GHG emissions in the US and of course, the transportation of crude contributes to that. Methane leakage (fugitive emissions) occurs from the transportation, storage as well as the production and further processing or burning of crude. I don’t think (as I believe I implied) that Surrey Council should present transport or any other emissions to the planners, but I do believe that in arriving at their decision whether or not to give the go ahead for extraction, the planners should take into consideration all of the polluting factors which undoubtedly impede the transition to a zero carbon economy.
      I can’t say I’m very confident and suspect there might be good legal reasons I as a non-lawyer am not able to discern for rejecting Ms Finch’s challenge, but do hope I am wrong and that the court will find in her favour.

  5. Less emissions than from a tanker puffing up from Nigeria, and then the emissions from the helicopters to board and secure the ship.

    All an improved situation for global emissions and no chance of a maritime disaster.

    Assisting transition-not impeding.

    If you fail to compare the two, what is the justification for electric vehicles??!!

  6. Iaith1720

    Storage tanks & tankers are sealed units & regulated.

    Any processing emissions will be accountable under refinary regulations & monitored.

    I do not agree that it is necessary for emissions which can not be reliably worked out upstream to be presented. Besides what would be the balance the emissions for the similar amount of imported oil that the indiginus oil replaces which will be higher with transportation from half way around the world.

    Can you give any examples of where else this has previously been done at UK planning grants for oil production sites or any change in legislation requires it.

    As far as I am aware none were give as examples to this court of appeal hearing but I stand to be corrected.

    • If transport emissions are such an issue then why are the antis INCREASING them by slow walking??

      And how do wind turbine blades get from IOW to their destinations? And what about Chinese manufactured solar panels?

      The quickest and easiest way to reduce transport emissions is to produce more in UK and transport over shorter distances. 70% PPE now from UK, used to be from places like Turkey and China. So, transport emissions reduced. Not rocket science, but common sense.

      For those who do actually want to investigate that, you will find quite a few reports around climate change where local production is advocated.

  7. MH

    Or maybe they are just unaware their actions are contrary to their rhetoric, and others will just believe their actions are what they really are, rather than what they would prefer to state they are!

    So, for example, when I see some trying to stop the press rolling, I think of burning books in 1930s Germany, not saving anything but destroying others freedoms. When I see slow walking slowing HGVs to a crawl, I remember that is what Newbury was like before the bypass-because I lived there. Wash the net curtains after every bank holiday.

  8. Martin Collyer

    Is see in Sarah Finches latest video below that she is admitting defeat in lieu of education of Parliament & the Judiciary.

  9. Oh Sarah

    Your arguments really do not stack up.

    Heathrow was opened after being built on 31 May 1946.

    That is 84 years ago & looking for development.

    Horse Hill was granted 20 years oil production from September 2019 untilnSeptember 2039. That is 11 years within the governments 2050 net zero target allowing a transition period.

    Which part did you not understand?

    Causing a delay will only extend the start of the permission until this is resoled.

  10. Heathrow is a red herring and is contrary to what HH is all about. HH will NOT add any emissions to UK as it will just replace emissions from imported oil.

    EXPANSION of an airport is a totally different issue, as they have to deal with a different equation, and that IS addition of emissions, unless means are shown to mitigate against that.

    Courts are used to sorting out confusions between different situations, but it really should not be required in this case. It is just common sense and obvious.

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