Horse Hill Appeal

Horse Hill legal challenge goes to the Court of Appeal

Surrey resident Sarah Finch is taking her legal challenge over Horse Hill oil to the Court of Appeal.

Friends of the Earth has recognised that this is one of four cases that threaten the UK’s climate reputation.

If the development goes ahead, the six oil wells at Horse Hill would collectively extract more 3 million tonnes of oil over 20 years – the burning of which could produce more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The legal challenge is our best hope of stopping it.

What’s at stake?

This case is about Surrey County Council’s decision to allow four new oil wells (in addition to the two existing wells on the site) and 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill, near Gatwick Airport.

The oil produced here could give rise to more than 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases when it is burned – but these ‘indirect’ emissions were not assessed during the planning process. Sarah argues that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should have included an assessment of the full climate impacts of the project.

Last year, a judge dismissed her challenge, 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”.

“far reaching ramifications” 

If Sarah’s case succeeds 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.

The hearing takes place in the Appeal Court in November 2021. Sarah’s lawyers are working hard preparing her case and will be up against lawyers representing Surrey County Council plus Horse Hill Developments Ltd and the the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Friends of the Earth has joined the case on Sarah’s side.

Sarah is represented by Leigh Day solicitors, Marc Willers QC (Garden Court Chambers) and Estelle Dehon (Cornerstone Chambers). Friends of the Earth is represented by Paul Brown QC and Nina Pindham (No 5 Chambers).

The costs of the legal action so far have been raised by crowdfunding and fundraising initiatives including a 100-mile sponsored walk by a 71-year-old grandmother an online art sale and a sponsored bike ride from London to Barcelona. Sarah has a small amount left to raise and will be launching a final fundraiser in October.