Closing arguments at Loxley/Dunsfold gas inquiry – who said what?

Part 1.

The public inquiry into plans for gas exploration in Dunsfold has closed. 

If allowed: More HGV’s for the eastern villages: More light pollution and environmental damage and yet another blow for the proposed development in the proposed new Dunsfold Garden Village.

Clockwise from top left: the inspector Mike Robins, David Elvin QC for UKOG, Jenny Wigley QC for Surrey County Council, Patrick Arthur for Waverley Borough Council

The online inquiry has sat for nine long days of arguments about the proposal by UK Oil & Gas for an exploration site at Loxley near Dunsfold. On land owned by Ashley Ward.

The inspector, Mike Robins, heard from the company, Surrey County Council, Waverley Borough Council and local people and organisations.

He gave no indication of when he would announce his decision. UKOG has made a partial application for costs.

Surrey County Council’s planning committee refused UKOG’s application on highway and landscape grounds in November 2020, against the advice of planning officers.

Because the committee decided:

  1. UKOG had not demonstrated that the highway network was an appropriate standard for site traffic and that it would not have a significant adverse impact on highway safety.
  2. Sufficient information had not been provided for the council to be satisfied there would be no significant adverse impact on the appearance, quality and character of the landscape.

Here are the key issues raised in closing arguments by David Elvin QC, for UKOG, Jenny Wigley QC for the county council, and Patrick Arthur, for borough and parish councils.

Recommendations to the inspector

The inquiry inspector, Mike Robins (left) heard…

Surrey County Council said: “the appeal should be dismissed”

Waverley Borough Council asked that: “The inspector is respectfully invited to dismiss the appeal.”

UKOG: UKOG requests that its proposals should be granted planning permission and the appeal allowed.”

Key arguments

Surrey County Council

“On the basis of the expert evidence given in support of its reasons for refusal, SCC has demonstrated why the proposed development is unacceptable in this location and why the appeal should be dismissed.”

Waverley Borough Council

“Important principles will be set by the grant of permission in relation to the scale and type of development proposed in the planning application. Any future application for oil and gas extraction at the site will rely heavily on the fact that the principle of site access, impact on the [Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] AONB and valued countryside, as well as the impact on local residents and businesses have been considered acceptable. As a result, local residents’ lives and future of local businesses will be greatly impacted.”


“the reasons for refusal were in direct conflict with the advice of officers and … do not stand up to close scrutiny. [They] “fail to take account of the policy significance of the proposals, mistake and overstate the objections raised and should be tested against the experienced judgment of SCC officers who twice recommended the grant of permission.

Landscape impact


“That the whole of the development can be restored to at least a neutral landscape position within a period of 3 years (or thereabouts) is plainly key to the proper assessment of its effects”.

David Elvin QC for UKOG said it had supported its planning application with:

  • Landscape and visual assessment
  • Extra information and visits
  • Light impact assessments
  • Outline landscape, environment, biodiversity restoration and enhancement plan

There had been no objection on the grounds of insufficient evidence from the county landscape consultant, Surrey Hills AONB planning adviser or Surrey County Council planning officers. He said UKOG had produced “a thorough and transparent assessment” on the effects of the proposal. It took into account the proximity of the AONB and the local designation as an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).

Waverley Borough Council

Mr Arthur said his and the county council’s landscape witnesses had not sought to exaggerate the case. They had “grappled with elements”, he said, where “their judgment simply differed” from that of UKOG’s landscape witness.

He said UKOG’s landscape witness had been “carefully selective” in his treatment of guidance and in some cases was

“simply wrong. It was difficult to comprehend how there could not be an “obvious and harmful impact” on the AONB from drilling rigs, raised well compound, coiled tubing unit, mobile lighting towers, shrouded flares, temporary storage tanks and cabins.”.

Surrey County Council

Jenny Wigley said the inspector needed to take into account the impact not just of the drilling area but the access track, access onto High Loxley Road and highway works at Pratt’s Corner.

Hedgerows and trees would be removed along High Loxley Road, she said. Site equipment, fencing and passing places would change the rural character of the single-track rural lane.

“The use of the site access itself by heavy goods vehicles [HGVs] trundling across an open field in plain view from the AONB will be discordant in the landscape. The development at the well site will involve extensive earthworks, structures and fencing that are all alien, uncharacteristic and not in keeping with the layout, massing, traditional vernacular form, materials and boundary treatment of the existing rural built environment.”

“The height and scale of proposed vertical structures, including rigs and a crane will stand out beyond any existing tree cover and will 2 adversely affect visual amenity, and views from the AONB.

“All this, coupled with the industrial activity and required night-time lighting, will detract from the tranquil and intimate character of the area.”

Value of the site

UKOG’s landscape witness argued that the proposed Loxley well site was not in a “valued landscape”, even though it was in a designated Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).

Surrey County Council

“the appeal site is valued in landscape terms. It is within the setting of the AONB, it acts as a buffer to the AONB, it shares characteristics with the AONB (with no detracting features), it includes important features of the AONB and it is within views to and from the AONB.The AGLV’s important role was recognised in planning policy, Ms Wigley said. It acted as a buffer and protection to the AONB, she said, and featured sunken lanes, tranquillity and dark skies.”


Landscape assessment

Surrey County Council

Jenny Wigley QC for Surrey County Council described the landscape assessment by UKOG consultant as “inadequate” and “materially deficient in numerous respects”. She said the shortcomings included:
  • Failed to give the appropriate significance to the view of the proposed site from Hascombe Hill, a strategic view from the AONB
  • Failed to recognise the importance of relatively rare views from the AONB and the relative rarity of the narrow, winding, single track sunken lane of High Loxley Road
  • Ignored areas of archaeological significance next to the site and all listed buildings in nearby scattered historic farmsteads
  • Failed to explain the important role of recreational routes
  • Narrowly assessed the well site alone, not the entire appeal site or wider site context
  • Failed to acknowledge the valued physical links with the AONB  
  • Failed to include winter views
  • No proper consideration of 4m high-security fencing
  • Overestimated benefits of the tree and hedge re-planting
  • Underplayed the significance of adverse visual effects


Mr Elvin criticised the county council’s landscape witness for:

  • No photographs of winter views
  • Not considering that the reversal of effects would be progressive
  • No consideration in her written evidence about the temporary duration of the development
  • The methodology of her LVIA for the council and an “opaqueness” about how she reached her judgements
  • “No attempt” to discuss her views with council advisers
  • Overstated likely effects on the time it would take for a hedge to become established
  • Failed to take account of a wedding business at High Billinghurst Farm on tranquillity
  • Exaggerated impact of HGVs movements on the site access and clutter of road signs and signals on the highway

Mr Elvin said:

“her focus has been on raising objections to the Appeal Proposals, rather than on providing a balanced and objective description and assessment.”

Felling of Burchetts Wood

The Burchetts mixed ancient and commercial woodland had been relied upon by UKOG to screen the proposed site. During the inquiry, it emerged that thinning of the woodland would begin in the autumn.


Mr Elvin said UKOG considered the possible felling of Burchett’s Wood as a worst-case scenario. But he concluded that if felling went ahead, it would not substantially change the company’s overall assessments on the impact of the site on the landscape.

The thinning work, due to start in the autumn, was “unlikely to remove the screening currently provided”, he said.

“the clear felling of the wood in its entirety is unlikely within the 3 year period of the proposed development.”

Surrey County Council

Ms Wigley said UKOG’s assessment of the effects of felling was “wholly inadequate” and an assessment had been “scant and inadequate”. Felling was “a realistic and likely prospect”.

The company had argued that the tree line on the site’s northern boundary would have the same screening role as the Burchetts. But Ms Wigley said:

“This is entirely unrealistic in circumstances where that tree line is in single file, all deciduous, not continuous and includes trees subject to ash die back. The appellants rely on the Burchetts when it suits them and then abandon all reliance on them when it no longer suits them.


The key transport disagreement centred on the suitability of High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Road, near the planned site.

The scheme proposes to widen the Pratts Corner junction between High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Road and part of High Loxley Road itself. Temporary traffic signals are planned for the four arms of the Pratts Corner junction, along with traffic cones and signage. Banksmen will be used when heavy goods vehicles are scheduled.

The inquiry heard that UKOG had not accepted all the recommendations in the road safety audit.


David Elvin said there had been detailed discussions between the company and highways officials since June 2018. Planning officers concluded that the proposals were supported by a “realistic and robust” assessment and were capable of delivering safe and suitable access, he said.

Mr Elvin criticised the council’s transport witness for making what he described as “implausible objections”. He also said there was a “serious omission” by the witness in failing to discuss his concerns with highways officers.

On the road safety audit, he said:

“It is misconceived to suggest that the RSA [road safety audit] was not complied with in that there are a few instances where the Appellant has not followed the recommendation proposed.”

He added that the audit recommended possible solutions to safety problems. There may be other acceptable ways they could be overcome, he said.

Waverley Borough Council

“Dunsfold Road and High Loxley Lane are not suitable or adequate to accommodate large heavy goods vehicles and abnormal indivisible load vehicles.”

Mr Arthur added that concerns remained about the traffic management operation and the implications if it failed.

Surrey County Council

“the local highway network is not of an appropriate standard to accommodate the development. Dunsfold Road west of Pratts Corner is unsuitable for HGVs and the agreed condition on routeing will prevent HGVs from travelling to the site from the west. From the east, the turn into High Loxley Road is physically constrained, preventing HGVs from being able to turn in without very significant highway works and traffic management measures.”

On the road safety audit, Ms Wigley said:

“the developer was forced into a risky trade-off between environmental concerns and highway safety. The safety recommendations could simply not be accommodated without increasing the unacceptability of the access arrangements in environmental terms to a degree higher than could be countenanced”

This trade-off was “apparently accepted” by the county highways authority, she said. The risk of drivers violating a red light had been resolved by moving the traffic lights, Ms Wigley said. “This seems far from a satisfactory solution, particularly when the repeated erection, removal and reinstatement of the signals throughout the development period allows scope for signals to be placed in slightly different locations each time.”

On the proposed banksmen, she said:

[this will] rely on a number of steps and a chain of communication (between driver, manager, one banksman and another banksman), all prone to human error and equipment failure.

“this is not a one off occasion, it is a procedure that will need to be used up to 20 times per day (10 two way movements) for up to 56 weeks.”


Heavy goods vehicles

Surrey County Council

Ms Wigley said on up to six occasions, the largest of HGVs visiting the site would be too big to navigate Pratts Corner.

“it will need to pass the junction with High Loxley Road, perform a three point turn back into Dunsfold Common Road and enter High Loxley Road from the west. This will rely on intensive traffic management and cause inconvenience to road users and is another demonstration of the unsuitability of the highway network in the vicinity of the site for the development proposed.”

All the HGVs using the B2130 between Dunsfold Common Road and the A281 would be forced to cross the centre line of the carriageway when negotiating two 90 degree bends.  She criticised UKOG for providing no breakdown of the HGV types and numbers. There is no suggestion that the larger HGVs would be in the minority, she said.

She said the total number of class 4 and above HGVs using the key stretch of the B2130 was 49 westbound and 41 eastbound over a seven day period. Development traffic would amount to up to 10 two-way HGV movements per day for up to 56 weeks. This is “highly material”, she said. It would “significantly increase the incidences of where the centre line is crossed, and in turn, will unacceptably increase highway safety risk”.


Mr Elvin said:

“The numbers of HGVs added to the network (to be controlled by condition) is a small percentage of those already on it and will include periods when there are none at all.”

He accused the council’s transport witness of exaggerating additional numbers of HGVs.


The council’s traffic witness calculated that the accident rate for the key section of the B2130 was double the largest UK rate since 2009 and nearly four times worse than the latest statistics for this type of road.

Mr Elvin responded:

“the comparisons he sought to draw have no reasonable statistical justification for the manner in which he sought to use them.”

He said the guidance used by the council’s transport witness related to the cost-benefit analysis of trunk road schemes and had “no application whatsoever to the assessment of accidents in safety terms”.

He said the highways authority’s assessment of safety on Dunsfold road was based “on the industry-standard approach of analysing recorded collisions and their circumstances at specific locations, rather than comparison to any national statistics”.

Planning balance

Surrey County Council

“the proposed development is contrary to the development plan and there are no material considerations to justify allowing the appeal as a departure from the plan. The benefits cited by the appellants are largely speculative and illusory and are not to be taken into account.

UKOG’s planning balance was “fatally undermined” by giving them significant weight, Ms Wigley said.

Waverley Borough Council

“The harm demonstrated by the highways and landscape evidence is entitled to substantial weight. The harm of the kind described in the evidence is credible and fully justified, it substantiates the stated reasons for refusal alone.”

Mr Arthur said the proposals were also contrary to 12 policies in the Waverley Local Plan.


“the project is not itself a production project but it is an essential prerequisite for the delivery of such projects in the future. This is a material benefit deserving of great weight in the planning balance given the importance of hydrocarbons in latest Government policy including the recently reissues NPPF.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.