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Campaigner challenges planning inspector’s decision to allow new oil production in Lincolnshire Wolds AONB

A campaigner has applied for permission to challenge a planning inspector’s decision to allow an oil drilling operation in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Posted on 21 December 2023

Mathilda Dennis, a member of SoS Biscathorpe, has been campaigning against oil production and its expansion at Biscathorpe since 2014.

Permission was first granted in 2014 and exploratory drilling undertaken in 2018 failed to locate the target reserve. The current application for further drilling and 15 years of production should oil be found was refused by Lincolnshire County Council in 2021.  The applicant, Egdon Resources UK Ltd, appealed against that decision which was then overturned by the planning inspector in November 2023.

Mathilda, represented by the environment team at law firm Leigh Day, has applied for a statutory review of the inspector’s decision. She says the impact on the landscape and the climate crisis outweigh the site’s uncertain and negligible contribution to national energy security.

She argues that:

  • the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guidance about major development in AONBs, which states that permission should be refused unless there are exceptional circumstances and the development is in the public interest, has been misinterpreted
  • there has been an error of law in not considering alternative proposals, including other means of meeting UK energy demands  
  • there has been a breach of the Environmental Impact Regulations 2017 by failing to consider whether the inevitable downstream greenhouse gas emissions that will arise from burning the oil were relevant to determining the environmental impact of the project
  • the great weight attached to the development’s small and uncertain contribution to national energy security is irrational
  • there is no evidence for an irrational assertion about the impact of the development on oil output in other countries

In her application for statutory review of the planning inspector’s decision, Mathilda points out that the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Egdon did not consider the “Scope 3” downstream emissions from the use of any oil that may be found.

She reminds the High Court that comments on the development came from CPRE The Countryside Charity, the Lincolnshire Wolds Countryside Service, and Natural England advising that the site’s location in the AONB should be the overriding consideration.  Six statutory consultees raised concerns about the climate crisis and sustainability.  All but three of 222 public comments on the proposed development were objections, with climate change the most common concern raised.

The inspector recognised that the site would not be a suitable location but said this consideration was outweighed by the national interest of the need for oil production.

Mathilda expects a ruling in the new year on whether her application for permission to bring a statutory review of the inspector’s decision has been successful.

Mathilda Dennis said:  

“SOS Biscathorpe is fighting on behalf of every community up and down the UK that wants to protect our natural environment for the long term health of the planet and its people.”

Dr Andrew Kythreotis of Lincoln Climate Commission said:

“The decision by the national planning inspectorate to allow drilling at Biscathorpe is ludicrous, and exposes an outdated planning system in the UK that isn’t climate agile.  The decision is certainly not in the public’s interest either locally or nationally given the small amount of oil we are talking about from the site.  This is just another political decision that makes a mockery of the science on climate change.”

Amanda Suddaby of SoS Biscathorpe said:   

“New oil development in an AONB close to a rare chalkstream is completely at odds with the global consensus, confirmed at COP28, that we must move away from fossil fuels.”

Leigh Day solicitor Julia Eriksen said:

“The inspector acknowledged that the development would cause harm to the AONB, however our client believes he allowed the appeal regardless on an incorrect basis. We are pleased to support our client in the next step of their long battle of fighting oil development in the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB by bringing this claim for statutory review.”

Counsel instructed are Estelle Dehon and Dr Lois Lane of Cornerstone.

SOS Biscathorpe is crowdfunding to support the legal claim.

Julia Eriksen
Climate change Environment Human rights Planning

Julia Eriksen

Julia is an associate solicitor in the human rights team

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