The High Court has given the go-ahead to a legal challenge against gas drilling near the Surrey village of Dunsfold.
The government granted planning permission last year for exploration and appraisal by UK Oil and Gas at the Loxley site. This overturned two refusals of consent by Surrey County Council.
Today, the local community group, Protect Dunsfold, supported by the Good Law Project, and Waverley Borough Council sought permission to bring a statutory review of the government’s decision.
Their first request, considered on paper, was turned down in October 2022. But today’s ruling by Mr Justice Lane means the challenge can go ahead.
The court decided that the challenge should be considered on two grounds – whether the government failed to:
- Give enough consideration to harm from gas drilling on the landscape of the nearby Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Explain inconsistencies with its decision to refuse permission for gas testing at Ellesmere Port because of carbon emissions.
Two other grounds made by Protect Dunsfold, on downstream benefits, were dismissed.
The ruling follows a recent announcement from UK Oil & Gas that the Dunsfold field could be worth £123m.
Director of Protect Dunsfold, Phil Travis, said:
“It’s great news that we are now going full speed ahead with this legal challenge which has emphasised the inconsistencies of the Secretary of State’s decision making over fossil fuel exploration schemes.
“It’s very encouraging to see that the courts have now recognised that climate change should be a central consideration when it comes to planning matters.
“We have always hoped that our campaign would mark a new era of resistance against fossil fuel exploration and extraction projects. So we are very grateful to our lawyers at Leigh Day and the support of Good Law Project”.
Director of Good Law Project, Jo Maugham, said:
“No Secretary of State who cared about the natural environment – or climate change – would have ignored the wishes of local people to grant planning permission for a huge new fracking project next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“We are pleased the High Court has given Protect Dunsfold, who we are supporting, permission to bring a judicial review challenge to a decision made under Michael Gove.”
The local MP and chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said:
“Despite the latest judicial review, It is again disappointing that plans for this potential gas exploration have not been formally shelved. The idea of drilling on this beautiful area continues to be inappropriate – what’s moreUKOG’s data and mapping of the sub-surface is sparse, old and simply not detailed enough. I hope to meet with Protect Dunsfold again later this month to continue discussions.”
Stephen Sanderson, UKOG’s chief executive, said:
“The Company’s legal team remain robustly confident that following the extensive Loxley public inquiry, the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning consent was thoroughly considered and entirely lawful. Consequently, we will continue to move our project ahead.”
UKOG shares fell today by 4.4% to 0.065p.
- The planning permission for the Loxley wellsite does not include fracking. UKOG has said it does not intend to frack for gas.
Updated with UKOG reaction on 4/3/23
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