Horse Hill Appeal

Horse Hill legal challenge goes to the Court of Appeal

Horse Hill Appeal patch, made for Coat of Hopes* by Deb Elliott

A legal challenge over permission for oil production at Horse Hill was heard in the Court of Appeal in November 2021, just after the COP6 climate summit. The judgment was handed down on 17 February 2022.

The judges dismissed the appeal, but not unanimously, with one of the three backing Sarah Finch, the campaigner who brought the case and Friends of the Earth, who joined as an intervenor on her side.

Sarah Finch has applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. This page will be updated once next steps are clear.

Read about the Appeal Court judgment

Read about the application to the Supreme Court

About the case

The case concerns planning permission granted to Horse Hill Developments Ltd in 2019 to drill four oil wells and produce oil for 20 years – right up to the net zero deadline.

If the development goes ahead, the oil wells at Horse Hill would collectively extract more than 3 million tonnes of oil over 20 years – the burning of which could produce more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Read more about the case

Show your support

Supporters outside the Court

The hearing was heard on 16-17 November.

A case of considerable public concern

Campaigner Sarah Finch, backed by the Weald Action Group, challenged Surrey County Council’s decision to permit the expansion at the oil site with a judicial review.

The judicial review was dismissed last year but a judge in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Lewison said that Sarah’s argument “has far reaching ramifications” and “the emission of GHG is a matter of considerable public concern”. He added that “in view of the importance of the question, I regard this as a compelling reason for the appeal to be heard”.

In the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in November 2021, Friends of the Earth said that this was one of four cases that threaten the UK’s climate reputation.  That’s because the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  joined the case as an ‘interested party’ – on the side of the Council. That’s right – the government is spending taxpayers’ money defending a decision to allow production of fossil fuels, in the same month as it is trying to appear a world leader on climate action at the COP26 Climate Summit.

“far reaching ramifications” 

If Sarah wins in the Court of Appeal, it could potentially have enormous significance. In future, for any planning applications that are likely to have a major effect on the environment, the developer could have to assess the full climate impacts, including emissions that are outside their control.

This would be a huge step forward in closing the current gap between our climate treaty obligations and planning practice in the UK.

A  huge thank you for all the generous support

The costs of this legal action were raised by local residents and campaigners, charities, parish councils and other local organisations, and supporters from across the country. An online auction is currently raising the final sums needed to hit the target. Other funding was raised by crowdfunding, a 100-mile sponsored walk by a 71-year-old grandmother, an online art sale,  a sponsored bike ride from London to Barcelona.

Sarah was represented by Leigh Day solicitors, Marc Willers QC (Garden Court Chambers) and Estelle Dehon (Cornerstone Chambers).

Horse Hill Developments Ltd and the government Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities joined the case as ‘interested parties’ on the Council’s side. Friends of the Earth joined the case on Sarah’s side.



*The Coat of Hopes is a travelling, community created, work of performance craft. Starting out from Newhaven on the south coast, “coat pilgrims” walked to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, collecting patches as they went.