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Case update 02 March 2023

Victory: Green light given for legal fight against fossil fuel drilling in the Surrey Hills

Good Law Project

We are delighted that campaigners from Protect Dunsfold- who we have been supporting- have been given permission by the High Court to challenge the Government’s approval of a gas exploration scheme on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Today’s decision overturns a previous ruling in Protect Dunsfold’s challenge and comes at a crucial time. UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) recently announced that they had discovered gas worth an estimated £123m in the area.

Protect Dunsfold were successful in gaining permission to proceed on two of their legal arguments. The first relates to inconsistency in decision-making by the Secretary of State, who gave the Dunsfold drilling site the go-ahead on the same day that he refused permission for a comparable site in Ellesmere Port. 

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Despite greenhouse gas emissions being the most significant factor against granting permission in Ellesmere Port, with the Secretary of State stating that ‘every tonne of carbon contributes to climate change’, when it came to Dunsfold, the Secretary of State reached a different decision. 

The second argument relates to the site being on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). National policy requires planning decisions to give great weight to “conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in AONBs. The reasons for departing from this requirement were never fully explained. 

So with some positive momentum behind us, we are now keen to push ahead with this legal challenge to stop the doors being opened to fracking and to protect the area’s woodland, natural habitats and local businesses. 

Let’s be clear, exploiting our natural landscape for gas should be a thing of the past. The Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing’s decision to run roughshod over Surrey County Council’s previous refusals and give permission for exploratory drilling to take place in the first place was scandalous and completely at odds with our mission towards net zero.

The local MP and now Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt MP, has also previously supported the campaign against the Government’s approval for the scheme and our fundraising efforts to support it.

We are grateful to Extinction Rebellion for their support today and the rally that they organised outside of the Royal Courts of Justice (pictured above).

If you would like to support the legal challenge against fossil fuel drilling in the Surrey Hills, you can do so here.

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.”

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”.

Leigh Day solicitor, Ricardo Gama, said:

“It was very odd for the Secretary of State to ignore the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions when granting planning permission for the Dunsfold project, and on the very same day to refuse planning permission based on greenhouse gas emissions for a very similar project which would produce fewer emissions.

“Our clients are therefore very pleased with this result and look forward to a full hearing of the issues later this year.”