Legal challenge fails to block Dunsfold gas drilling

Despite ‘Your Waverley’ efforts, the county council and protestors, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

Drilling for gas near  Dunsfold village was given the all-clear by the  High Court judge yesterday. 

How much more can these small rural villages take?  A bad week for Dunsfold – this week, it lost its local post office.

Mrs Justice Steyn refused to allow legal challenges by Waverley Borough Council and the community group, Protect Dunsfold, backed by Good Law Project. (Full ruling at the end of this article)Below, SW Surrey MP Jeremy Hunts joins campaigners. Will this be another nail in Jeremy’s election hopes?

But the locals may not be giving up – Protect Dunsfold said this morning it was considering an appeal.

The judge dismissed the claims that government approval of plans by UK Oil & Gas to explore for gas at its Loxley well site was unlawful.

Surrey County Council had twice refused the company’s planning application, but the housing minister, Stuart Andrew, overturned this on appeal.

At a court hearing in June, Protect Dunsfold argued that Mr Andrew’s decision was inconsistent with a similar one announced on the same day. The group said it also failed to properly account for the impact on the nearby Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The minister had refused permission for well testing at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire because the unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions on climate change conflicted with national planning policy.

Estelle Dehon KC, for Protect Dunsfold, said the Dunsfold and Ellesmere Port decisions were made concurrently, the level of emissions were in a similar range, and the climate impact was discussed in both cases.

For Waverley Borough Council, Jenny Wigley KC said the housing minister had agreed the harm to the AONB from the drilling site represented a “significant adverse impact”. But in his decision, the weight given to landscape harm was considered moderate. This was “in stark contrast”, she said, to the weight given in the decision to the benefits of gas exploration.


Mrs Justice Steyn said she was “not persuaded” that the inspector had failed to reflect policy on protecting the AONB. She said he “expressly recorded” Surrey County Council’s submissions that great weight should be accorded to harm to the AONB.

The judge rejected the argument by Protect Dunsfold and Waverley Borough Council that there was a contrast in the way the inspector and minister considered the benefits of the development versus the harm. She said:

“The fact that harm is to the AONB increases the weight to be attributed to it. But the harm to the AONB from a temporary development such as this clearly can, in principle attract moderate weight in the overall planning balance.”

On the inconsistency between the Dunsfold and Ellesmere Port decisions, the judge said there were similarities in the cases. But she said:

“In my judgment, the decisions are not sufficiently similar to trigger application of the consistency principle, and it is clear that in the circumstances the Ellesmere Port decision is not one which no reasonable decision-maker would have failed to take into account.”

The judge said the Ellesmere Port decision “concerned a local community in Cheshire that was vulnerable in terms of health and deprivation”. She noted that the proposed Ellesmere Port well test emissions would represent a once-only use of 29-79% of aspirational carbon savings by Cheshire West and Chester Council within about 100 days.

In Surrey, the climate change strategy was “not predicated upon restricting hydrocarbon exploration”, Mrs Justice Steyn noted.


Sarah Godwin, director of Protect Dunsfold, said:

“Protect Dunsfold Ltd is deeply disappointed that the Judicial Review judgement handed down today has gone against us.

“It seems incredible that within the current context of extreme weather conditions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, planning policy still supports such speculative and unnecessary onshore oil and gas exploration.

“The Court’s decision shows that the Government needs to radically overhaul national planning policy to redress the balance so that the planning authorities always have to take the full climate and environmental impact of such proposals fully into account. 

“We will continue to work to change Government policies, and fight for recognition of the very real and imminent threat to our environment, businesses and everyday life related to the continued search for fossil fuels.”

Stephen Sanderson, chief executive of UK Oil & Gas plc, said:

“We are pleased that Mrs Justice Steyn has dismissed the legal challenge to our Loxley project and has confirmed that its planning consent is entirely lawful, as the Company and its counsel has maintained.

“We believe that a successful project will be beneficial to local and national level energy and economic interests and is fully in keeping with the government’s Hydrogen and Energy Security strategies.”

Kathy Smyth, co-ordinator of Waverley Friends of the Earth and a director of Protect Dunsfold, said:

“This is a deeply frustrating and worrying result particularly in relation to the inconsistency and illogicality of the Government’s treatment of the emissions at Ellesmere Port and at Loxley in Surrey.  The planet can’t distinguish between greenhouse gases emitted in Ellesmere Port and greenhouse gases emitted in Surrey. They are equally damaging.

“In rejecting our legal arguments on the similarity of the two cases the Judge makes the point that the calculated emissions were not evaluated in the context of Surrey Minerals Plan and the level of emissions in Surrey. I just want to make the point that at the start of this matter in 2019 many different people and organisations registered objections on the grounds of emissions and climate impact, including Waverley Friends of the Earth.  However, in the Loxley case sustaining these objections was made virtually impossible because the relevant Surrey Mineral Plan policies relating to onshore oil and gas were adopted at least 13 years ago in 2010 when Surrey County Council barely acknowledged the climate debate.  These policies prioritise oil and gas extraction and are an exemplar of institutional climate denial.  Consequently our hands were tied as all objections relating to greenhouse gas emissions were comprehensively dismissed by Surrey planning officers in 2019 who repeatedly said the Loxley application was just about “land use”.   

“Professor Sir Bob Watson has pointed out today in a BBC interview that the planet has already reached 1.2 degrees of warming, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and that current global government pledges are so inadequate that we will miss the Paris target and that the planet is on track for 2.5 degrees or more. 

“This judgment demonstrates yet again that the current planning, political and legal systems are incapable of addressing the climate crisis.” 

Solicitor Ricard Gama, at Leigh Day, who represented Protect Dunsfold, said:

“Our clients are disappointed that the court has dismissed their claim for judicial review. They feel that 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. Our clients are considering an appeal.”


Full ruling  protect-dunsfold-v-sluhc-1

2 thoughts on “Legal challenge fails to block Dunsfold gas drilling”

  1. I feel for the residents of Dunsfold – not only has the oil drilling ruling gone against them for the moment but I’m gutted that the post Office has gone. I would often drive to the Dunsfold PO in preference to the one in Godalming which is much nearer because of the wonderful service there from the delightful American lady behind the counter. I’m so sorry she has gone.

  2. Without an Environmental Impact Assessment, it is not possible to assess whether this exploration activity is sustainable and what will be its impact. From the information available, why the request for a screening opinion was made and requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment was screened out is difficult to understand. A business case for a voluntary EIA would be prudent as part of the licence to operate, this would enable residents to have their concerns satisfactorily answered.

    Whilst I have no objection to the government endeavouring to secure energy security in a world where energy availability and cost have become unpredictably volatile. Government at national and local level also have an obligation to engage the law that protects society and their environment from harm. From past experience of exploration wells the Local Planning Authority would be prudent to consider its control and mitigation management options.

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