Major legal challenge launched against decision to allow an exploratory oil and gas well in Surrey Hills

22 Jul 2022

Planning and Environment

Estelle Dehon QC has been instructed by Leigh Day on behalf of Protect Dunsfold Ltd, supported by the Good Law Project (GLP), in a statutory challenge issued this week to the Secretary of State for DLUC’s decision to grant planning permission to fossil fuel company UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) for exploratory drilling. Estelle leads junior Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers.

This site is located in the Surrey Hills Area of Great Landscape Value, adjacent to the AONB. Protect Dunsfold Ltd argues that permission for gas exploration is inconsistent with the policies of the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF), which protect AONBs and those requiring decisions to achieve radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Protect Dunsfold Ltd and GLP say the legal issues at stake may have broad AONB and climate change implications, which could be relevant in other cases involving exploratory investigations for hydrocarbon extraction across the country.

Ms Dehon QC said: “Protect Dunsfold argue that the Secretary of State failed to apply his own policy for protecting Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite accepting there would be harm to the Surrey Hills AONB. Furthermore, his approach to climate change was muddled and inconsistent – he ignored the harmful impact of unmitigated greenhouse gas emission from the Dunsfold project; but on the same day refused permission for gas exploration at Ellesmere Port, with lower emissions, but which he weighed significantly against that development. Protect Dunsfold believes this unexplained inconsistency is unlawful.”

The Inspector and the Secretary of State accepted lack of compliance with the Development Plan and that the development would cause “a significant level of landscape and visual impact”, including harm to the AONB. However, they concluded that the weight to be attached to the landscape harm was “moderate” overall, and outweighed by the benefits of the proposal. Protect Dunsfold Ltd contend this failed properly to apply paragraph 176 of the NPPF as it failed to afford great weight to the harm to the AONB.

On climate impact, Protect Dunsfold Ltd contend that it is inconsistent for the Inspector and the Secretary of State to give weight to the downstream benefits of an energy project but not its negative impacts. Both the Report and the Decision state that they cannot consider the benefits of later gas extraction, but both give weight to the economic benefits of later production on site. The Inspector and the Secretary of State also failed to attach any weight to the unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions which UKOG accepted would be caused by the exploration works, but on the same day the Secretary of State found that lower unmitigated emissions which would have been caused by gas exploration at Ellesmere Port carried “significant weight against the proposal”, which was the key factor weighing against the grant of permission for that development. Protect Dunsfold Ltd contend that there is unsustainable inconsistency between the decisions.

For further information, read Drill or Drop’s coverage of the case here: and