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Protect Dunsfold considers appeal after judges dismiss its challenge to decision to allow exploratory oil and gas well in Surrey

Protect Dunsfold is considering an appeal after the Planning Court dismissed its legal challenge to a government decision to allow an exploratory oil and gas well to be drilled in Dunsfold near to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Posted on 20 July 2023

The judge who conducted a statutory review into a decision by the Minister of State for Housing, Stuart Andrew MP, on behalf of the Secretary of State, Michael Gove to give planning permission to the project on agricultural grazing land south of Dunsfold Road, Dunsfold, Surrey, said the decision was lawful. The planning application had been refused by Surrey County Council but Mr Andrew gave permission for the exploration to go ahead.

Protect Dunsfold Ltd, represented by law firm Leigh Day and supported by the Good Law Project, had argued that Mr Andrew’s decision was inconsistent with the policies of the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) which say great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty in AONBs and with a decision by Mr Andrew to refuse planning permission to extract natural gas in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire because of an unacceptable level of greenhouse gas emissions, even though the greenhouse gas emissions would be lower than at Dunsfold.

The judge said that, allowing a charitable reading of Mr Andrew’s decision, it could be seen as having properly interpreted policies protecting the AONB. She also found that the Dunsfold decision was different enough from the Ellesmere Port decision to mean that a consistent approach did not need to be applied between them.

The development will involve building an exploratory borehole and a sidetrack borehole, an access track, a junction with High Loxley Road, work on the junction of High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Road, and a boundary fence and gates. It will be located in the Surrey Hills Area of Great Landscape Value, adjacent to the AONB.

Director of Protect Dunsfold, Sarah Godwin, said:

"Protect Dunsfold Ltd is deeply disappointed that the Judicial Review judgement handed down today has gone against us. It seems incredible that within the current context of extreme weather conditions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, planning policy still supports such speculative and unnecessary onshore oil and gas exploration. The Court’s decision shows that the Government needs to radically overhaul national planning policy to redress the balance so that the planning authorities always have to take the full climate and environmental impact of such proposals fully into account.

“We will continue to work to change Government policies, and fight for recognition of the very real and imminent threat to our environment, businesses and everyday life related to the continued search for fossil fuels."

Leigh Day solicitor Ricardo Gama said:

“Our clients are disappointed that the court has dismissed their claim for judicial review. They feel that there is an important legal principle at stake, which is whether local authorities and the Secretary of State can ignore greenhouse gas emissions when weighing up the public benefits of an exploratory drilling proposal such as this, in a context where greenhouse gas emissions were a reason for refusing a very similar development at Ellesmere Port. Our clients are considering an appeal.”

Ricardo Gama November 2021
Climate change Environment Judicial review Planning

Ricardo Gama

Ricardo specialises in environmental claims and planning law

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