A judge has found that Surrey County Council was not required to consider greenhouse gas emissions arising from the combustion of the oil to be produced at a site at Horse Hill, Surrey, when considering a planning application for massive expansion of oil drilling at the site over the next 25 years.
In a written ruling issued today, the Hon Mr Justice Holgate dismissed a legal challenge brought by Redhill resident Sarah Finch, who was supported by the Weald Action Group.
Sarah Finch said:
“This ruling shows just how out-of-touch our planning system is with the climate emergency. Given the Judge’s ruling that planning permission was lawfully granted because it was in line with national government policy, then clearly, that policy needs to be updated. It hasn’t been updated since before the net zero target was enacted and doesn’t reflect the fact that Parliament has declared a national climate emergency. How can we have a zero emissions target if we don’t count the carbon emissions?”
“There seems to be a fundamental inconsistency in the judgment. The judge accepts the Council’s assessment of the positive (as the Council saw it) indirect benefits of the oil – such as contributing to UK energy security – but says that the negative impacts did not need to be assessed. How is that logical?”
Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:
“At the time of a climate emergency, our client is very surprised that the Court has concluded that, under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil extracted are not effects of oil development, and so assessment of their climate impact is not required. This exposes a major flaw in the planning system in this country, and proves that it is not fit for purpose in a Net Zero world. Our client is of course bitterly disappointed with this judgment, especially after such a long-standing campaign against oil development in Surrey, and is accordingly taking legal advice on grounds of appeal.”
Friends of the Earth in-house lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:
“It beggars belief that with both Parliament and Surrey County Council having declared a climate emergency, and as we approach the year the UK will host vital UN climate negotiations, we see an oil company allowed to drill for millions of tonnes of climate-wrecking oil in the English countryside. This must stop.
“The court’s decision is disappointing, but we are proud to have been able to support Sarah Finch and many others in opposing oil drilling in Surrey in this case.”
While the judgment is extremely disappointing, there are however two aspects which should prove useful for future planning decisions:
- It stated that the existence of another regulatory regime is not a reason not to assess the environmental impact of a development (see paragraphs 113 and 143).
- It also confirmed that indirect effects of a development needed to be assessed even if they were outside the developer’s control (see paragraph 112) provided those effects were “of” the development. However, in this case, the Judge did not accept that the greenhouse gas emissions from combustion of oil were an indirect effect “of” the production of the oil at the site.
The costs of the legal challenge were raised by a crowdfunder appeal. Sarah Finch said, “I’d like to say a huge thank you to the many local people and organisations who supported this legal challenge. Together we have got these important issues aired in the High Court – and made a crucial contribution to the evolution of the law in this vital area, despite that progress being rather painstaking.”
Notes to Editors:
- Read the High Court judgment
- The Weald Action Group is an umbrella for local groups campaigning against the extraction of oil and gas in the South of England.
- Sarah is represented by Leigh Day solicitors, as well as Marc Willers QC (Garden Court Chambers) and Estelle Dehon (Cornerstone Chambers). Friends of the Earth was represented by Nina Pindham at No.5 Barristers Chambers.
- The planning consent, granted to Horse Hill Developments Ltd in September 2019, allowed four more oil production wells, a water reinjection well, four gas-to-power generators, seven new oil tanks, each with a capacity of 1,300 barrels, and a tanker loading area – and oil production for 20 years.