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Case update 13 June 2023

Stop fossil fuel drilling in Dunsfold: An update from Thursday’s hearing

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Last Thursday, we were in the High Court supporting the campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, as they challenged the government’s decision to permit a fossil fuel drilling scheme on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

On the day of the hearing, we were delighted to be joined by activists from campaign groups including Extinction Rebellion and Weald Action Group. Our rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice sent a clear message that we can’t continue exploiting our natural landscape for oil and gas.

An image of environmental campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

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Speaking in court, Estelle Dehon KC, set out the legal grounds of Protect Dunsfold’s challenge against the decision from the Secretary of State of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to allow UK Oil and Gas to proceed with the scheme.

Dehon argued that the Secretary of State had not complied with national policy requiring him to give “great weight” to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty as the starting point in his decision.

The government’s lawyers responded that, even though this requirement had not been mentioned, it had been fulfilled. The simple fact that the AONB had been alluded to in the Secretary of State’s decision, they continued, meant that “great weight” had been given to it as a consideration.

Dehon also argued that there was a key inconsistency in the Secretary of State’s decision-making, which was not explained and which made it unlawful.

On the day he gave the green light to the project at Dunsfold, the Secretary of State refused permission for a similar scheme at a site in Ellesmere Port. This was because of its potential impact on the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions. 

However, the emissions from the proposal at Dunsfold would be higher than the Ellesmere scheme. 

The government’s lawyers disputed this, claiming that differences between the two schemes meant there was no conflict between the two decisions. The Ellesmere Port exploration project involves shale gas, whereas the site at Dunsfold involves conventional gas, to which different policies apply. 

But the response from Dehon was that the type of gas being extracted in each scheme was not relevant. The critical issue was the extent of the greenhouse gas emissions and the climate impact, which were not affected by the type of gas.

It may take several months for judgment to be handed down from the hearing.

You can read the Protect Dunsfold’s skeleton argument here, UK Oil and Gas’ skeleton argument here and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities’ skeleton argument here.

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