The fight goes on:
Surrey villagers continue their challenge against government over gas drilling
A Surrey community group is refusing to give up its legal challenge over government backing for gas drilling near the village of Dunsfold. Protect Dunsfold went to the High Court in June to argue that the government acted unlawfully in granting planning permission for the scheme to UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG).
A judge ruled against the group in a decision issued last month.
Down but not out
But today Protect Dunsfold confirmed it was applying to the Court of Appeal to overturn the judge’s ruling. The group’s legal challenge continues to be supported by the Good Law Project.
The appeal, if approved, would centre on whether the then housing minister, Stuart Andrew, acted consistently last year when he approved the Dunsfold scheme (also known as Loxley).
On the same day, he refused a similar project in Ellesmere Port in Cheshire because of its greenhouse gas emissions.
Inconsistency in decision-making
Protect Dunsfold said today it would argue that Mr Andrew’s decision on Dunsfold disagreed with a critical aspect of the one on Ellesmere Port.
The group said it would also argue that the High Court ruling gave too much weight to the fact that emissions were not considered in Surrey County Council’s original planning decision.
Sarah Godwin, director of Protect Dunsfold, said:
“There is a glaring inconsistency in the minister’s decision that greenhouse gas emissions at Ellesmere Port are a material consideration resulting in a decision by him to refuse planning consent whereas the same minister on the same date ignored virtually the same amount of emissions at Loxley.
“The planet can’t distinguish between greenhouse gases emitted in Cheshire and those emitted in Surrey. As the Climate Change Committee said in a quote referred to by the minister in the Ellesmere Port case, ‘every tonne of carbon contributes towards climate change’.
“Existing government policies which prioritise oil and gas exploration are an exemplar of institutional climate denial. The recent announcement from the Prime Minister that his government will ‘max out’ UK’s oil and gas reserves is putting the UK in direct conflict with international experts; low-cost, low-carbon technologies already exist that can supplant fossil fuels. These should always be the core of any national strategy to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
“Protect Dunsfold believes that any fossil fuel exploration project, even on a small scale, is one too many and we will continue to fight to stop UKOG 234 Ltd from putting a spade in the ground at Loxley.”
Project is a threat to wildlife
The Good Law Project said today the Dunsfold project would do “irreversible damage” to local wildlife and businesses just outside the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its legal manager, Jennine Walker, said:
“UKOG’s plans to drill the Dunsfold site will see irreparable harm to the natural habitats and landscape on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as producing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Success in this appeal will have impacts far beyond the village of Dunsfold and could make it much harder for fossil fuel schemes to go ahead”.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too
Protect Dunsfold is represented by the law firm, Leigh Day. Solicitor Ricardo Gama said:
“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.”
Waverley Borough Council was also part of the court challenge against the government’s Dunsfold decision. It has said it is considering an appeal against the High Court ruling.
The High Court judge who rejected Protect Dunsfold’s challenge also refused permission for an appeal. But the community group has the right to seek consent directly from the Court of Appeal.
This article first appeared on the Drill-or-drop Website on 3 August and is reproduced with permissioon