Anti-fracking campaigners are celebrating after the High Court granted a judicial review into the exploratory drilling of £123 million of oil near the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) was refused planning permission to search for fossil fuels at Loxley Well in Dunsfold in December 2020 by Surrey County Council’s planning committee.
But UKOG, which describes itself as an energy company focused on oil and gas exploration, appealed in June 2022 after a public inquiry. It was granted permission by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, led by Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove.
Almost immediately, Waverley Borough Council challenged the appeal decision in the High Court with £13,000 set aside for the legal challenge. Yesterday, the High Court ruled the matter would be examined again – by Judicial Review.
Responding to the court decision was Frack Free Surrey. They said: “We are delighted by the news. Allowing exploration for fossil gas during a climate emergency, and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was an appalling decision by the government. We need to rapidly wean ourselves off gas, not look for more of it. It will be good to hear the arguments tested in the High Court.”
The legal challenge has been supported by the Goodwill Law Project. The group’s director, Jo Maugham, said: “No Secretary of State who cared about the natural environment, or climate change, would have ignored the wishes of local people to grant planning permission for a huge new fracking project next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We are pleased the High Court has given Protect Dunsfold, who we are supporting, permission to bring a judicial review challenge to a decision made under Michael Gove.”
According to lawyers, the Protect Dunsfold campaign succeeded for two reasons. The first was the “inconsistency in decision-making” by Secretary of State Michael Gove, who gave the Dunsfold drilling site the go-ahead on the same day he refused permission for a comparable site.
The second is that Dunsfold sits on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there should be great weight to “conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty”.
Jeremy Hunt, now Chancellor and whose constituency covers Dunsfold, has previously campaigned against the drilling site going ahead. He was approached for comment.
UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) and DLUHC were approached for comment.
Paul Follows, leader of Waverley Borough Council has been approached for comment.
No date has been set for the review.