Regulation

Villagers relieved at second refusal of Dunsfold drilling plans – UKOG likely to appeal

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 That decision was later rescinded after technical problems with the online meeting.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.”

UKOG reaction

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.

UKOG share values. Chart by Bing

Other reaction

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.

26 replies »

    • Well done, indeed. I like to think that the decision makers saw through UKOG’s blatant attempt to greenwash their way to a solution favourable to their agenda.

      • The material reasons for refusal are sound. I suspect any appeal would fail and either way the reasons for refusal would be not be considered ‘Wednesbury’ unreasonable by an inspector. I doubt UKOG would recover costs.

      • Those who think the council members have done them proud with the vote will soon be left with a knife in the back ,i have a feeling that the council cannot and will not defend the appeal and will reach an agreement with UKOG instead.

        Dont be angry at the messenger if my post displeases some ,i am only saying what the council will do next,legally the advantage is now with UKOG ,they are now in a stronger position to bargain and to accept what conditions they deem suitable rather than the council.
        The decision on Friday has significantly weakened the position of Surrey Council .

        I hate to be the bearer of bad news but some really need to see the bigger picture and what is coming.

      • Which jobs exactly? Dunsfold has a lot of oil and gas experts that need jobs? Maybe you are talking about the tea maker or cleaner , everyone knows that oil jobs are limited and crews just move from one site to the next, hardy job creation, just sour grapes excuses for greedy punters who lost . Grow up and take it like a man . It says so much about you when you resort to ageist remarks , maybe you didn’t have parents but you will be old one day .

        • I remember Cuadrilla admitting at the PNR inquiry that there would be just 11 permanent jobs. Mainly security and cleaning.

    • This decision played right into the hands of UKOG ,there will be an appeal and the decision will be overturned there being no reason to object as well as national interest ,Surrey county will have to pay a heavy cost if they defend the case .In fact with this decision the council has effectively funded the Loxley drill for UKOG.

      A lot of people think just because vote went in their favor its binding ,sadly the bad news is that it is not ,this is now out of the hands of the county for sure and will be at civil hearing .There is simply no case the council can put forward to defend the appeal.

      • Yilmaz Nasuk

        Not only will the council of played into UKOG’s hands for Loxley now but this national policy will set the president for all other Weald applications.

        UKOG have in my opinion now played a blinder & what they had previously offered or conseded will for all other applications be set as a national policy decision & costs

        The only reason for Surrey council to enter a defence is to try & retain some of the planning conditions applied when it gets to appeal. That will now cost the council a lot to maintain these conditions imo.

  1. It’s staggering how the planning department works, they say that they “strongly” recommend the council should approve the development based on the evidence and consider any other factors are simply not worthy.
    Exactly what evidence???
    So what if there were billons of barrels of oil/gas does it mean you have to rip up half the countryside and contaminate and lose countless habitats just so we can supposedly transition to green energy???
    The visual impact alone should have been more than enough to halt Sanderson and his greedy oily friends and colleagues.
    The councillors who were in favour should be ashamed of their ignorance. But as for the ones who opened their eyes fully, I thank you for making the right and ethical decision and not listen to the you know what (b s) from a biased and “economic value driven only” department. We who care about the environment and future generations will always fight on it and their behalf.

    • Why staggering, one?

      The UK planning system operates within certain regulations. It is not a matter for individual opinions. That is quite correct, otherwise there would be no continuity from area to area, or even one case and another. That would be impossible and just create a lawyers utopia.

      In this case the evidence was not only provided, but repeated several times, yet the councillors ignored and rejected on grounds where the evidence provided was as clear as crystal. Ethics had nothing to do with it.

  2. This doesn’t leave UKOG many options now , Isle of Wight may well follow suit , Horse Hill is costing any profits for waste disposal, the Kimmeridge has been shelved , wages to pay , Broadford Bridge mothballed and Turkey drilling costs to find. The company value is a mere £17 million after today’s 30% drop in shares remember when the Gatwick Gusher was at the height of ramping by UKOG the value was said to be £140 million and shares were 10p each not 10 a penny. Could really be game over . Great work everyone.

  3. Congratulations. The argument that the oil and gas is going to be green is about as spurious as it could get; hydrogen from oil/gas is a filthy process and they know it. Let’s hope this is the end of it.

  4. Also filthy would be coal from Dewley. Just heard from Coal Action Network. Please support their crowdfunder if you are able to.

  5. Better not Denby, we are burning coal tonight to keep the lights on as the wind isn’t blowing and for some reason the sun isn’t shining.

  6. “The value of UKOG shares dropped to the level they were prior to the increase in value anticipating a positive vote.”

    Not going to excite the Jono’s, but that is what happened.

    I expect the same sort of increase in value ahead of the Appeal. That is the reality with UKOG, which is a very heavily traded “investment”, and offers traders opportunities to gamble. Those who bought during the first week of November and sold Wednesday/Thursday will have pocketed some profit to have another go, with better odds, IMO. So, not all mugs.

    Feel sorry for the Officers who now have to cobble together something that has any chance at an Appeal, but I can’t see that being possible, as there have been two meetings during which they have repeatedly stated that is not the situation. And it will be that which is the focus of an Appeal. Trouble with Appeals, if not fought by the Officers previously concerned, then others brought in to take their place are usually on a hiding to nothing, (apart from the fees), as the Appeal has to consider the same planning rules and reality the previous Officers did!

    And the “game” goes on, and the tax payer funds it.

  7. Do any of you think this won’t be turned over on appeal by the planning inspectorate? Before replying think about the reasons this application was rejected – MC12 (landscaping) & MC15 (transport). NOTHING ELSE WILL BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION.

    This is down to landscaping and transport on appeal. Cold hard analysis by the planning inspectorate who routinely overturn decisions by councils on mineral extraction based on evidential reasoning from key agencies (no concerns) and the application itself (which said approve). Not a single appeal raised with the planning inspectorate on onshore gas extraction has been denied when the planning application (written by the country council planning department) said permit, prove me wrong, there are hundreds of case examples.

    What councillors achieved yesterday was delaying Loxley by 6-10 months… Cheers all round?
    Consider this – If on appeal this application is approved, UKOG will be awarded costs which will likely cost Surrey residents £250k+.
    Still don’t care? Did anyone consider that the planning inspectorate also review the conditions of the application, they could find that many of the conditions may be unnecessary or restrictive compared to NATIONAL not LOCAL gas sites. You may find HGV’s rocking up on weekends for example… Better the devil you know.

    What will be interesting is if SCC (officers not councillors) even contest the appeal.

    If you truly want UKOG to fail in the UK you need to change national planning policy & framework.
    You may not like my post, but it doesn’t mean I’m not right.

      • John – The Roseacre Wood proposal had opposition from the County Council planning department and key agencies. UKOG application had none. Indeed Caroline Smith, SCC planning manager said ‘officers are strongly of the view that the applicaiton should not be refused’.

        This will be permitted on appeal, potentially with less restrictive conditions.
        As a reminder the only aspect of the application which will be reviewed during the appeal is landscaping and transport – No key agencies or SCC planning department raised concerns on both accounts.

        This is potentially the easiest inquiry the planning inspectorate will ever do, it’s clear the councillors decision was based on emotion not on the merits of the application. This has nothing to do with landscaping or transport and everything to do with ‘not in my backyard’ mentality.

        My bad it’s MC14 (landscape) not MC12.

      • So, jP, you think no one will notice the difference?

        Rob did, I did, anyone who has watched over previous years will also have noticed.

        If you don’t understand the difference, that is surprising, as you have been posting for a long time.

        However, you do often seem to use the opportunity to attempt to deflect rather than address the issue. The norm in planning matters, but excluded once an Inspector is involved.

        Rob at 9.47 addressed the issue. I believe he is correct in his assessment. You may not like it, but to introduce a different situation as being relevant is pretty lame.

        And, yes Rob, I would be surprised if the officers contested the Appeal, which will be an opportunity for some crowd funded “experts” to feature, and make some money, but they will be trying to build upon the sand you indicate. And that is the key-it is poor quality sand at that.

        But, of course, local councils now have greater freedom to raise funds from Council Tax, so all costs (other than the crowd funding) can be taken from local’s pockets. I am sure they will then be very happy with what amount their representatives decide for them! LOL.

  8. I watched the meeting live and what a shambles it was, my, 5 year old son could have done better, have you all sold your cars and switched your gas central heating off ,bet you haven’t ,hypocrites the lot of you.

  9. Yes, Maurice.

    What I find odd is surely some councillors have had some experience in business? If so, why do they then think it acceptable to turn up at a meeting unprepared and having to ask such basic questions, and even then not understanding the answers-especially when it was a repeat of the previous meeting?

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