Horse Hill Appeal

Horse Hill legal challenge heard at the Supreme Court

Campaigners with banners outside the Supreme Court
Campaigners outside the Supreme Court hearing on the Horse Hill case, 21 June 2023 Photo: Leona Kadijevic, Friends of the Earth

The long-running legal case brought by campaigner Sarah Finch was heard in the Supreme Court on  21 and 22 June 2023. Read more about the hearing

We await the Supreme Court’s judgment.

This case is of national importance.

Sam Fowles, planning and environment law specialist at Cornerstone Barristers said: “It is extremely difficult to overstate the significance of this case…. If the court decides that you have to take into account the downstream impact, then every fossil fuel development will be assessed as having a massively negative impact on the environment. This case could be the beginning of the end of new fossil fuel extraction in the UK.”

Tony Bosworth, Climate Change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “This landmark legal challenge could have huge implications for fossil fuel developments across the country, including the new coal mine in West Cumbria. Sarah Finch’s legal case could play a huge role in building a net zero future.”

About the case

Sarah’s case, brought on behalf of the Weald Action Group, concerns the grant of planning permission to Horse Hill Developments Ltd (controlled by UK Oil & Gas Plc) in 2019 to drill four new 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. Yet the Environmental Impact Assessment did not consider these ‘downstream’ emissions.

The judicial review claim was rejected by the High Court in 2020. The Appeal was heard in November 2021, just after the COP26 climate summit, and the judgment was handed down on 17 February 2022.

The judges dismissed the appeal, but not unanimously, with one of the three agreeing with Sarah. Read about the Appeal Court judgment

National bodies intervening in the case

As well as the original parties to the case (Sarah vs Surrey County Council), and the three that attached themselves early on (Horse Hill Developments Ltd and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the Council’s side and Friends of the Earth on Sarah’s), three new parties have got permission to formally intervene in the Supreme Court hearing. They are the Office for Environmental Protection, Greenpeace, and West Cumbria Mining Ltd – the firm who want to dig the first deep coal mine in the UK in a generation. The fact that these organisations all want to have their say in a case about a small onshore oil development in Surrey shows the national importance of this case.

Read a report from Sky News: Horse Hill court battle could set precedent that triggers ‘beginning of the end’ of new fossil fuel projects in UK

A  huge thank you for all the generous support

The costs of the High Court and Court of Appeal stages of this legal action so have been raised by local residents and campaigners, charities, parish councils and other local organisations, and supporters from across the country.  Thank you to all the many individuals, local groups and organisations who supported this work.

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.

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

Join us on 21 June outside the Supreme Court to show your support for Sarah and Weald Action Group, and make clear that we don’t want new oil drilling here, or anywhere.