A Surrey County Council planning committee refused consent for oil and gas exploration at Loxley Well in December 2020.
But UKOG appealed and last month after a public inquiry, the oil and gas exploration and production company was granted permission by then minister for housing Stuart Andrew, acting for the then housing secretary Michael Gove.
On Monday, July 18, Waverley Borough Council’s executive unanimously decided they would challenge the appeal decision in High Court.
Council leader Paul Follows said it was “perverse” to allow an exploratory well on green belt land next to Hascombe Hill Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Speaking across from a whirring fan, he said the unprecedented extreme heat warning made it an appropriate day to commit to fight it.
Councillor Steve Williams (Green, Godalming Charterhouse) added: “As we meet today in extreme weather conditions symptomatic of our climate crisis, it is ironic that we are meeting to discuss a challenge to the decision of the secretary of state to allow UKOG to continue in its quest for more fossil fuels, when we need to be moving to more towards a world of sustainable energy and one of reducing energy consumption rather than expanding it.”
Commenting on the Conservative leadership candidates debate, he said he found “an astonishing complete lack of anything resembling a sense of urgency when the issue of climate was raised”.
He described the appeal decision as “the worst possible outcome for the people of Waverley” and added: “I do see it as my public duty, as portfolio holder for environment and sustainability, to reflect the widespread public disquiet over the proposal and reiterate the concerns of local people.”
The executive approved £13,000 for the High Court application, and non-executive councillor Jerry Hyman (Farnham Residents, Farnham Firgrove) said if they lost the challenge, the council could end up paying out up to £50,000.
Head of legal Stephen Rix confirmed if their application failed, the court would likely order the council to pay the secretary of state’s legal costs, and potentially UKOG’s too.
He declined to answer Cllr Hyman in public if he supported a legal challenge, but the council report said there were grounds for one and “potential for success”.
“We need to fight this one,” said Councillor Liz Townsend (Lib Dem, Cranleigh West).
“What if this is just the beginning of something? There is no guarantee this will be limited to just this particular area.
“It was this Government that scrapped the Code for Sustainable Homes.
“What a different place we might have been in now if all of those homes had been built to environmental energy efficiency standards; there may not have been the need for this Government to be looking at fracking.
“It was classified as being in a bonfire of red tape for development; well we’ve ended up with a different kind of bonfire now.
“Despite saying we’re going for net zero, in this decision they’ve shown that actually what they’re more interested in doing is supporting the fossil fuel industry.”