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Friends of the Earth will speak out in legal case against Surrey oil well

Friends of the Earth has been given permission to make submissions in support of a legal case brought by a Surrey resident against the decision to allow oil wells on green belt farmland near to her home.

Posted on 26 October 2020

In a judicial review hearing next month, Sarah Finch, of Redhill in Surrey will argue that the environmental assessment used as part of the Surrey County Council decision-making process for the oil wells proposed by Horse Hill Developments Ltd should have considered the full climate impacts in the context of the current climate emergency.
Friends of the Earth says its submission to the court in support of Sarah’s case will assist the judges to understand the context of the current climate emergency and why it is vital to include it in any decision to allow the building of oil wells in Surrey.
Sarah has been campaigning against the Horse Hill Development oil drilling operation since 2013 when a well site was established following the discovery of oil in the Portland Sandstone and the Kimmeridge Limestone within the Lower Weald. The proposed development is 3.1 km west of Horley town centre and 3.5m north west of Gatwick Airport’s main runway, and six miles from Sarah’s home.

She has campaigned with others against the proposed expansion of the site which over 20m years of oil production would include five drilling cellars, four hydrocarbon production wells, four gas-to-power generators, a process and storage area and tanker loading facility, seven oil tanks, each with a 1,300-barrel capacity and a 37-metre drill rig.
Sarah is represented in her legal case by Leigh Day solicitors, as well as Marc Willers QC (Garden Court chambers) and Estelle Dehon (Cornerstone chambers). Friends of the Earth is represented by Nina Pindham of No 5 Chambers.
Sarah’s claim for judicial review of the decision-making by Surrey County Council and Horse Hill Developments is on the following grounds:
A failure to comply with the 2014 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive and the 2017 Town and Country Planning (EIA) Regulations because it failed to assess the indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of the development from burning oil and it failed to consider the climate crisis imperative to meet the UK’s Net Zero Target.

An error of law in interpreting the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Minerals Planning Practice Guidance so as to permit exclusion of an assessment of the downstream GHG emissions from the oil.
Sarah Finch said:
"The fact that a leading environmental NGO like Friends of the Earth is intervening in this judicial review indicates the importance and impact of this case. It addresses national policy as well as local decision-making and Friends of the Earth have valuable expertise in the issues it raises. I am extremely pleased that they have got involved as they have a strong record of making positive legal interventions.
"The case is all about Surrey County Council’s failure to consider the full climate impacts of the Horse Hill oil development. I believe we have very strong arguments and look forward to putting those arguments to the judge."
Friends of the Earth in-house lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:
"We are intervening in these proceedings because there is a vitally important issue at stake: that the full climate impacts of fossil fuel projects must be environmentally assessed. If this doesn’t happen, then how are we going to tackle the climate crisis? We believe that both common sense and the law say that carbon emissions from the actual use of the oil from the Horse Hill wells cannot be left out of the equation when deciding whether to grant planning permission.  Yet it is these impacts which were not considered.
"Friends of the Earth believes this decision by Surrey County Council is unlawful. We are arguing that it breaches UK environmental law, and does not show proper regard to the Government’s Net Zero Carbon emissions target, or the Council's own declaration of a climate emergency. We are pleased to stand alongside Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group in opposing this environmentally-damaging development.”
Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:
“Our client believes that Surrey County Council did not take account of the full environmental impact of this proposed development when it made its decision to give the go-ahead.
“Since the Court of Appeal ruled that policy approval for Heathrow airport expansion was unlawful, it has been very clear that there is a legal imperative for the UK planning system to ensure that climate  change impacts are properly considered at all levels. In this case, which greenlights fossil fuel extraction, it is evident that this must include consideration of the Net Zero Target.”
Sarah is supported by the Weald Action Group. The costs of the legal action have been raised by crowdfunding and fundraising initiatives include an online art sale.
The hearing will take place on 17 & 18 November 2020.

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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Campaigner granted permission for judicial review of planning permission for Surrey oil wells

A campaigner has won permission for judicial review of Surrey County Council's approval for oil wells at Horse Hill, Surrey.