The long-awaited Judicial Review of Surrey County Council’s decision-making over the planning permission for 20 years oil production at Horse Hill took place over two days this week.
Local campaigner Sarah Finch, supported by the Weald Action Group, challenged Surrey County Council and Horse Hill Developments Ltd on the issue of whether they had approached the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) properly.
Sarah had one straightforward point for the High Court: that Surrey County Council had failed to assess the carbon emissions from the oil that would be produced from Horse Hill when it was used. She said these emissions should have been assessed in the EIA. Horse Hill Developments Ltd (HHDL) have said that most of the oil will be used in transportation – no other regulatory body oversees emissions from vehicles so noone will assess the carbon impacts from the Horse Hill oil when it’s combusted.
The Judge and lawyers agreed that this was an interesting and important case. The lawyer for HHDL, David Elvin QC, said the wide scope of the arguments was the problem (and of course exactly why we brought the challenge): “It’s the most macro of all issues– as it’s planet wide”.
The lawyers for the other side produced a note which indicated that we need to leave these matters to national legislation and policy, including targets for different sectors in the carbon budgets.
The Judge appeared to accept that the current approach – whereby a developer doesn’t need to take account of environmental impacts that are outside its direct control – is wanting. And that planning authorities can’t rely on other regulators and avoid assessing emissions. But he was concerned about the wider implications for the planning system, and was sceptical about the argument that the greenhouse gases are indirect effects of the development.
If we can win any of these points when the Judgment is issued in a few weeks time we will have helped to chip away at the excuses companies can use to avoid assessing their climate impacts. Airing these arguments at the High Court and ensuring Surrey County Council and the applicants and interested parties had to think about them will have focused attention on these important issues.
The Horse Hill legal challenge is just one of many climate-related cases in the courts at the moment, the most high profile being the Heathrow expansion case in the Supreme Court.
Sarah said: “With the Weald Action Group, I decided to pursue the case robustly and accepted legal advice about reducing the scope of the case (for example removing the arguments about the regulation of earthquake risk) and focusing on one issue: the indirect carbon emissions. How can we have a zero emissions target if we don’t count the carbon emissions? I am grateful to all the people and local organisations who supported this challenge. I am now waiting eagerly for the judgment to be issued.”
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