The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has applied to intervene in the legal case brought by campaigner Sarah Finch against Surrey County Council over planning permission for new oil wells and production at Horse Hill in Surrey. This is the first time the OEP has sought to use its powers to intervene in judicial review proceedings.
The case concerns the 2019 decision by Surrey County Council to allow the Horse Hill development. Sarah Finch believes the decision was unlawful because the Environmental Impact Assessment failed to include assessment of the “downstream” emissions from the oil wells. It is estimated that the development could lead to more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent being released into the atmosphere when the oil is ultimately burned.
The case was heard in the Court of Appeal in November 2021. The Court of Appeal judges were divided over the issue and their split ruling means that at present, planning authorities can grant permissions for commercial fossil fuel production without the climate impact being part of an Environmental Impact Assessment.
The appeal is to be heard by the Supreme Court in June 2023.
Sarah Finch said:
“I’m delighted that the OEP has applied to intervene in the case. This reflects the legal importance and seriousness of this appeal. Given its responsibility to ensure compliance with environmental law, and its expertise, its input into the case will be crucial and helpful to the Court.”
Vicki Elcoate of the Weald Action Group said:
“The OEP is quite right that the law needs clarifying. Each new fossil fuel development locks in decades of future greenhouse gas emissions – and no regulatory process is directly measuring and mitigating them. The present situation means different planning authorities can make different decisions about which environmental impacts of a project to consider. If the full impacts aren’t assessed at the planning application stage, it is difficult to see how we can meet vital climate targets.”
Notes to Editors:
- The case R (on the application of Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group) v Surrey County Council and others is to be heard in the Supreme Court on 21–22 June 2023.
- The OEP’s statutory functions are to hold government and other public authorities to account against their environmental commitments and compliance with environmental law. https://www.theoep.org.uk/index.php/news/oep-seeks-permission-intervene-supreme-court-appeal-highlight-importance-clarity-environmental. The Environment Act 2021 gives the OEP power to intervene in any judicial review relating to an alleged failure to comply with environmental law where it considers that the failure – if it occurred – would be serious. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/30/schedule/3/paragraph/13/enacted
- Sarah Finch is represented by Leigh Day solicitors, Marc Willers KC (Garden Court Chambers) and Estelle Dehon KC (Cornerstone Barristers).
- The planning consent, granted to Horse Hill Developments Ltd in September 2019, was for 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 commercial oil production for 20 years.
- The Weald Action Group is an umbrella for local groups campaigning against the extraction of oil and gas in the South of England. The costs of the High Court and Appeal Court stages of the legal challenge were raised by a crowdfunder appeal and fundraising drives by supporters. The Law For Change Fund has agreed to cover the legal team’s costs for work on the appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as court fees.