Challenge to Surrey gas drilling goes to court

Opponents of plans to explore for gas near the Surrey village of Dunsfold take their case to the Royal Courts of Justice next week.

View from High Billinghurst Farm towards the planned gas exploration site.
Photo: High Billinghurst Farm

The campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, and Waverley Borough Council are seeking to challenge planning consent for drilling and testing by UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG).      

Government granted permission for exploration in June 2022, overturning two refusals of the scheme by Surrey County Council (details here and here).

The proposed site, known as Loxley, is close to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Protect Dunsfold and the borough council will argue that the government’s decision was unlawful because it failed to evaluate correctly the harm to the AONB.

In a 156-page ruling, the housing minister, Stuart Andrew, acknowledged that there would be “significant level of landscape and visual impacts from the proposal” and that it would “degrade the quality of the setting of the AONB”. But he said the effects would be short term and there would be only limited effects on the AONB itself.

The opponents have also argued the scheme would have a damaging impact on roads and businesses, as well as climate change.

Protect Dunsfold said large lorries delivering to the Loxley site would need to encroach on common land on roadside verges, controlled by the borough council. This, the group argues, was not resolved by the planning process and remains a problem for UKOG.

Mr Andrew said there would not be “any significant adverse impacts on highway safety or the effective operation of the highway network”.

The local MP and now chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said in January 2022 that the scheme would take the UK in “exactly the wrong direction” on climate change. It was “absolutely extraordinary”, he said, that oil and gas drilling was being contemplated in the area.

Local MP, Jeremy Hunt, speaking against the Loxley proposals in January 2022. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The Good Law Project, which is supporting Protect Dunsfold in the challenge, said this month:

“Opening major new fossil fuel extraction schemes should be a thing of the past. We have seen plenty of inertia from the government over tackling the climate emergency, but approving this harmful scheme is a significant step backwards.”

Mr Andrew said exploration was a necessary precursor to extraction and great weight should be given to the benefits of gas exploration and appraisal.

Yesterday, UKOG announced the findings of a report, which estimated gas extraction from the Loxley gasfield could be worth up to £124m. But from this, the company must pay the costs of site construction, drilling and testing and a further planning application for production.

Shares in the company rose just over 13% on the news. But the price, at 0.069p, is still well below the most recent peak of 0.17p in June 2022, when planning permission was granted.

More than three-quarters of comments on the original application were against the proposal.

There were objections from Dunsfold, Bramley, Alford, Witley and Cranleigh parish councils, along with organisations including CPRE, Waverley Friends of the Earth, Weald Action Group, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Extinction Rebellion and Don’t Drill Dunsfold.

Case details

Protect Dunsfold and Waverley Borough Council are seeking a statutory review of the government’s decision to grant planning permission for the Loxley well site.

In October 2022, they were refused permission to bring the challenge.

But earlier this month, they were given the opportunity to make their case at a hearing on 2 March 2023 at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.

Protect Dunsfold is represented by Estelle Dehon KC and Leigh Day solicitors.

The group’s case is that Mr Andrew’s decision was unlawful because he:

  • Failed to correctly evaluate damage to the AONB
  • Made an inconsistent decision, compared to a similar case at Ellesmere Port announced on the same day
  • Was inconsistent in considering the alleged downstream benefits of hydrocarbon production without considering the harms that would arise
  • Double counted the alleged benefits, which were long-term and very uncertain
  • Discounted the real and immediate harm to local businesses
  • Overruled clear views expressed by all levels of democratically-elected organisations – and so incorrectly applied national policies

Original claim filed against the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities

3 replies »

  1. “the effects would be short term” (Stuart Andrew).
    Any new exploitation of fossil fuel finds will inevitably shorten the ‘term’ available to the planet’s human and plant resources.

  2. So, on that basis then UK had better just tell the USA, please stop drilling those wells, taking the gas from them, building those LNG terminals and transporting shipment after shipment across the Atlantic to the UK. Might adjust UKs balance of payments a little but many would die as a result.

    Same author asked yesterday how I would reduce the growth in this planet’s population. Seems there is a cunning plan already. Bit like China failing to vaccinate many of the elderly against Covid. Same result, but not my choice.

    Technically-and factually-the inevitable bit is actually not inevitable. So the facts are wrong, the punctuation is good. Again, not my choice.

  3. P.S.

    I did enjoy the comment about the share price!

    Alternatively, the share price movement since planning was approved allowed some share holders to purchase and then achieve a profit of up to 30%, (a lot by the trading pattern) that many seem to have immediately transferred to Angus and made a further 25%. Luck or judgement? Mugs or smug punters? Greed or needing to recover against inflation? Maybe, just AIM, but interesting.

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s