Urgent change is needed to assess the full impact of fossil fuel proposals on the climate, the government was told today.
Sarah Finch, a campaigner who challenged the approval of oil production at Horse Hill in Surrey, has urged the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, to update planning policy.
In a letter, Ms Finch said current policy was hindering the ability to tackle climate change and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
She urged the minister to plug the legal and policy gap.
The Horse Hill site, near Gatwick Airport, has planning permission for oil production for 20 years. The use of this oil could release more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over this time, Ms Finch said. But Surrey County Council did not take this into account when it granted consent.
Ms Finch called for:
- Revision of planning guidance so that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels would be assessed in decisions for oil, gas and coal extraction
- End to the broad support for fossil fuel developments in planning policy
- Empowerment of local authorities to make decisions in line with net zero obligations
“We know that if unchecked, climate change threatens the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world.
“We must make all the changes necessary to ensure this does not become reality – and that means empowering planning authorities to assess all greenhouse gas emissions from a proposed development, and to refuse those with unacceptable climate impacts.”
Ms Finch, a member of the Weald Action Group campaign network in southern England, failed to secure a judicial review of the Horse Hill planning decision.
She had argued that Surrey County Council should have taken account of the carbon emissions from burning oil produced at Horse Hill. But the judge ruled that there was no legal requirement to include emissions from the use of the oil in an environmental impact assessment. Court ruling
She is seeking an appeal of that decision, as well as calling for an urgent government review to regulate uncounted carbon emissions.
Ms Finch said:
“The appeal may take months and time is running out to stop climate catastrophe.
“Each new fossil fuel development locks in decades of future greenhouse gas emissions so the government has to move forward urgently.”
She also referred in her letter to Mr Jenrick’s decision not to intervene in the granting of planning permission for a coal mine in Cumbria.
Following that decision, Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, asked the government to provide guidance to local authorities on the climate impact of their decisions. He said it was critically important for local councillors and planning authorities to consider fully the implications of their decisions on climate targets.