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Protect Dunsfold wins permission for statutory review of decision to allow exploratory oil and gas well in Surrey

Protect Dunsfold has been given permission by the Planning Court to legally challenge 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).

A statutory review will be held of the Local Government Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to give planning permission to the project on agricultural grazing land south of Dunsfold Road, Dunsfold, Surrey on appeal after the application had beenrefused twice by Surrey County Council.

Protect Dunsfold Ltd is represented by law firm Leigh Day and supported by the Good Law Project.

The campaign group was given permission for review of Mr Gove’s decision on the grounds that

  • it 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
  • it was inconsistent with a decision on a similar application in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire in summer 2022. In that case, an application to extract natural gas, the Local Government Secretary refused planning permission because he found that the development would have an unacceptable level of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Surrey plan involves construction, operation and decommissioning of a well site. The work will mean 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 would be located in the Surrey Hills Area of Great Landscape Value, adjacent to the AONB.

The result of the statutory review is expected later this year. The permission for review was given by the planning court on Thursday, 2 March 2023.

Director of Protect Dunsfold, Phil Travis, said:

“It’s great news that we are now able to go ahead with a Judicial review, thus legally challenging the Government’s decision in June 2022 to overturn the decision of Surrey County Council to refuse the application by UKOG to drill in Dunsfold/Loxley. The Judge’s decision today has emphasised the inconsistencies of the Secretary of State’s decision-making process over fossil fuel exploration schemes.

“It’s very encouraging to see that the courts have now recognised that climate change and environmental issues 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. We are very grateful to our lawyers at Leigh Day and the support of the Good Law Project, and we are pleased to be working alongside Waverley Borough Council who also oppose this 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.”

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