Councillors have narrowly turned down plans to drill for oil and gas at Dunsfold in Surrey for a second time.
Members of the county council’s planning committee voted by six to five to refuse planning permission to UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) for its proposed Loxley wellsite. See DrillOrDrop live news updates
They said the proposal contravened local planning policy on transport and landscape grounds.
There was also concern that the wellsite would damage nearby local businesses, particularly a wedding venue, craft brewery and farm that hosts a cancer-awareness festival.
A previous planning committee on 29 June 2020 voted to refuse by the same margin. That decision was later rescinded after technical problems with the online meeting.
On both occasions, councillors went against the advice of planning officers who had recommended approval of the application.
Officials said the committee should give great weight to the benefits of hydrocarbon extraction. But several councillors said UKOG had not demonstrated how the local community and economy would benefit.
UKOG argued that the scheme for a vertical and sidetrack well would help transition to a low carbon economy, partly by providing a feedstock for hydrogen.
Protect Dunsfold reaction
Protect Dunsfold, a community group, which has been opposing the plans for nearly two years, welcomed the decision this afternoon. A spokesperson said:
“Protect Dunsfold and all involved in fighting this application from UKOG are extremely relieved that the result of today’s council meeting that the application has been refused on certainn planning grounds.
“We feel this is a very fair and realistic judgement in today’s world of climate crisis.
Businesses locally have been hit by the Covid crisis and did not need to be impact by an oil and gas rig in their back yards.
There were serious issues around the effect of the site on new housing at Dunsfold Park Garden Village.
“Overall, we are all extremely glad that the councillors saw fit to reject the proposals.”
In a statement after the decision, the company said it was likely to appeal:
“This decision is contrary to the recommendation of the Council officers’ report which recommended approval, all issues concerning planning, environmental and highways having been resolved to their professional satisfaction. Crucially, the decision also ignores the key role domestic natural gas plays in the government’s stated low-carbon hydrogen policy in which natural gas is reformed into clean burning hydrogen. Low carbon hydrogen is a key element of government infrastructure strategy and is vital to help achieve net zero and underpin the UK’s recovery from record Covid-19 induced debt levels.
“The Company is carefully considering its position but is likely to lodge an appeal on the grounds that the decision is unreasonable given the evidence presented and the Council officers’ positive recommendation. Further developments will be advised in due course.”
The value of UKOG shares fell by a third this afternoon to 0.14p.
Other opponents of the scheme welcomed the decision.
The local MP, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted:
“Thank you @SurreyCouncil for making the right decision and rejecting the UKOG drilling application in Dunsfold. Great community campaigning has paid off – and a weight lifted off all of our minds ahead of Christmas.”
Councillor Steve Williams, the environment portfolio holder at Waverley Borough Council said:
“Surrey County Council has narrowly refused the UKOG application to drill for hydrocarbons in Dunsfold. This is a vindication of Waverley Borough Council’s consistent opposition to the proposal for over a year.
A spokesperson for the campaign network, Weald Action Group, said:
“I’m so pleased that the Surrey Councillors listened to the evidence and turned down this highly damaging application.
“UKOG wrongly claimed that their drilling would help us move towards Net Zero Carbon emissions, by producing gas which could potentially be used to make hydrogen – the Weald Action Group has demolished this argument.
“In the past, Surrey Councillors have been swayed by arguments about a claimed ‘need’ for oil and gas. This decision shows that they now realise the fossil fuel age is ending and the need for fossil fuels in the short term does not override residents’ concerns about their businesses and quality of life, or the environment and climate.”
The opposition group, Back Off Horse Hill, said:
“And finally, the correct outcome again. UKOG have failed at Dunsfold. Thank you councillors who refused the application.
Extinction Rebellion Guildford said:
Planning refused for a 2nd time for UKOG’s venue to destroy the Dunsfold local economy and environment. Sense has prevailed. Climate change means no new oil or gas can be drilled if society is to survive. A managed transition is essential.
We’ll update this article with more reaction as we get it.