Waverley Borough Council has secured an unexpected victory in the High Court after it was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the planning permission for oil and gas exploration at the Loxley Well site near Dunsfold.
Council officials and elected members told the Herald privately they were braced for disappointment after launching a last ditch bid to overturn the government's decision to allow drilling by UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) Ltd.
But to their surprise, the Royal Courts of Justice allowed its legal challenge against the Secretary of State to proceed to a full judicial review.
In June 2020, Surrey County Council refused an application by UKOG for oil and gas drilling near the village of Dunsfold in South West Surrey. UKOG appealed, and a planning inquiry was held in July 2021. The appeal was referred to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The then-Housing Minister, Stuart Andrew, overruled the county council’s refusals and granted planning permission. Project Dunsfold and Waverley Borough Council wanted to challenge the Government’s decision and sought a statutory review of the case. They were given the opportunity to make their case at a hearing on Thursday (March 2) at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The hearing granted Project Dunsfold and Waverley Borough Council permission to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision on several grounds, including that the decision to allow further on-shore hydrocarbon exploration is inconsistent with the Government’s declared Climate Emergency.
Councillor Paul Follows, leader of Waverley Borough Council, said: “This afternoon we received the results of the hearing. It is with great relief that we can reveal that our challenge has been permitted to proceed to full hearing.
“It was always our belief that drilling for gas at Dunsfold would lead to irreversible harm to our environment, to local businesses and to local people. Our position has not changed: we remain absolutely opposed to it in any form and are delighted with this decision.
“This proposal was completely at odds with our declared climate emergency and similar declarations made by the county council and the Government. In this country, we should be increasing our investment in renewables where we have genuine competitive advantage, such as offshore wind, rather than onshore oil and gas in the middle of the Surrey Hills.”
Waverley's portfolio holder for environment and sustainability, Councillor Steve Williams, said: "The council has consistently expressed its opposition in the strongest possible terms to the plans, which will have damaging repercussions for the environment, local businesses, and residents.
“This is a great outcome for the people of Waverley, and we are delighted with the decision. Without doubt, allowing this exploration to proceed would have led to irreversible harm to our environment and to local people. Hopefully now that harm will be avoided.”