Campaigner urges Minister to plug the carbon gap in planning law and policy

Surrey Campaigner Sarah Finch

Government policy needs to change urgently to enable decisions on fossil fuel applications to be properly assessed in light of the climate crisis. A campaigner from the Weald Action Group, who are on the frontline of a flurry of applications to expand onshore oil and gas in the South of England, has written today (22 February 2021) to the Planning Minister, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP.

A recent Judicial Review brought by Surrey resident Sarah Finch failed because local councils do not appear to have the right tools to assess and then refuse planning applications which, by taking fossil fuels out of the ground, inevitably release millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned.

Sarah Finch has applied to appeal against the decision of the High Court but, in light of comments made by the Judge, is also calling on the Government to carry out an urgent review so that these uncounted carbon emissions are properly regulated.

Sarah Finch said: “The Appeal may take months and time is running out to stop climate catastrophe. Each new fossil fuel development locks in decades of future greenhouse gas emissions so the Government has to move forward urgently. 

“Just last month the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, asked the government to provide guidance to local authorities following its decision not to intervene in a decision on a coal mine in Cumbria.”

The Weald Action Group is calling for:

  1. A Review of guidance on environmental impact assessment so that all emissions arising from a fossil fuel development are assessed, including when the oil, gas or coal is used
  2. A Review of the National Planning Policy Framework to provide specific guidance on fossil fuels in light of the climate emergency 
  3. The Government to empower local authorities to make planning decisions in line with Net Zero Carbon obligations

Sarah Finch wrote to the Minister: “We know that if unchecked, climate change threatens the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world. We must make all the changes necessary to ensure this does not become reality – and that means empowering planning authorities to assess all greenhouse gas emissions from a proposed development, and to refuse those with unacceptable climate impacts.”


Notes to editors

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP is the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Sarah Finch was the claimant in a Judicial Review of Surrey County Council’s decision to approve 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill in Surrey. The case was heard in November 2020 and the Judgment can be found here:

Read Sarah Finch’s letter to the Letter to the Secretary of State

Lord Deben’s letter to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP on the Cumbria coal mine application:

A detailed article on the background can be found in issue 122 of e-law, newsletter of UKELA: Climate change mitigation and the planning process: Article from e-law
Published with permission from UKELA

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