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Case update 05 June 2023

We were in court to protect the Surrey Hills from fossil fuel drilling

This week, we we’e in the High Court supporting campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, in their legal challenge against the Government’s approval of a fossil fuel exploration scheme at the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

If we want to give ourselves a chance of tackling the climate emergency, we can’t continue exploiting our natural landscape for fossil fuels. 

But in June 2022, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities decided to approve an exploratory drilling project by UK Oil and Gas in a tranquil stretch of farmers’ fields overlooked by the stunning Hascombe Hill and situated next door to the picture-postcard village of Dunsfold. 

This scandalous decision not only goes against our vital efforts to get to net zero, it also runs roughshod over local democracy- overturning two previous planning permission refusals by Surrey County Council.

We visited Dunsfold to ask local campaigners why they are fighting so hard to overturn this decision.  They told us it was completely unacceptable that UKOG’s drilling rigs could soon be rolling in to churn up this idyllic landscape in search of fossil fuels.

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But it is not only the land and local wildlife that are at threat. Businesses including a nearby brewery and a wedding venue could also be badly affected by the drilling. And an annual cancer awareness festival on an adjoining field may be forced to cancel if the drilling takes place.

The Government’s decision has also attracted opposition from the local MP, and now Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. We were pleasantly surprised when he previously shared our crowdfunder for the legal challenge, which you can also support here.

It is likely that it will take several months for a judgment to be handed down after  Thursday’s hearing, but the outcome could have significant implications far beyond Dunsfold. 

Success would force the Government to reconsider their approval of the scheme and  also could lead to changes in how future on-shore fossil fuel projects go through the planning permission process. 

At the High Court,the claimants, Protect Dunsfold made two 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. 

In this case, greenhouse gas emissions were cited as the most significant factor against granting permission, with the Secretary of State stating that ‘every tonne of carbon contributes to climate change’. When it came to Dunsfold, he reached a different decision. 

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

If you are interested in supporting this vital legal challenge, you can do so here.