Government faces judicial review over decision to permit gas drilling in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Surrey constituency - Extinction Rebellion UK

Government faces judicial review over decision to permit gas drilling in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Surrey constituency

Phone: Kirsty Clough 07969 907448 
InterviewsSteve Wiliams, Portfolio Holder for Environment & Sustainability, Waverley Borough Council on 07715 076023; and Phil Travis, Protect Dunsfold on 07932 675965

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Future fossil fuel projects could be scrapped if the judicial review rules against the project, which is opposed by Hunt [1]

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt [2] along with local residents, the local council and environmental campaigners are supporting a judicial review, which commences tomorrow (Thursday, 8 June) and seeks to overturn a government decision to allow gas drilling at Dunsfold, which is in the MP’s Surrey constituency.

Campaigners from across Surrey, including Extinction Rebellion local groups, are travelling to the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Thursday 8th June to show solidarity with Protect Dunsfold – supported by the Good Law Project – and Waverley Borough Council who successfully sought permission for the judicial review in March. [3]

They will be joined by activists from Extinction Rebellion London from 9am bringing noise, colour and drums. Speeches will follow from 9:45am.

The judicial review seeks to overturn the government decision to allow exploratory gas drilling by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) at Dunsfold.

In 2020 the County Council twice refused UKOG permission to drill, but the government reversed this in 2022. [4]

The judicial review was allowed on the basis of two legal arguments – the first relating to landscape impacts and the second, crucially, relating to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. [3]

Significantly, if the decision to allow drilling is overturned on the basis of the second argument this could impact the outcome of future fossil fuel planning applications as it will confirm that emissions taking place at the project site should be taken into account. 

Local MP, Jeremy Hunt, has attended local protests and continues to oppose drilling for gas in Dunsfold. After the court decision to allow the judicial review in March he said: “Despite the latest judicial review, it is again disappointing that plans for this potential gas exploration have not been formally shelved. The idea of drilling on this beautiful area continues to be inappropriate – what’s more UKOG’s data and mapping of the sub-surface is sparse, old and simply not detailed enough….” [2]

Chris Neill, Godalming resident and Extinction Rebellion activist said: “Extinction Rebellion members in Surrey have been standing alongside local residents and Councillors for the past four years to oppose this nonsensical and destructive plan and we’ll continue to do that, whatever it takes. As the climate crisis grows ever more urgent, everyone needs to come together to demand that our government starts putting people and the planet before corporate profits.”

Paul Follows, Leader of Waverley Borough Council, said: “Drilling for fossil fuels is completely at odds with our declared Climate Emergency and similar declarations made by the County Council and the Government. Our partnership with Protect Dunsfold, local parish councils and residents right across Waverley has been crucial to opposing this scheme. A successful judicial review could be important for future fossil-fuel extraction decisions not only locally but nationwide.”

Sarah Godwin from Protect Dunsfold said: “We are seeking a successful outcome to the hearing on June 8th, so that the decision to allow UKOG 234 Ltd to carry out exploratory drilling in Loxley/Dunsfold will be reversed by the Minister of State. This project must be stopped now. UKOG’s plans would have considerable negative impact on the natural environment around Dunsfold. There is also growing evidence that greenhouse gas emissions must be factored into planning decisions.

Steve Williams, Portfolio Holder for Environment & Sustainability, Waverley Borough Council said: “Waverley Borough Council has consistently opposed the proposal of UKOG to drill for hydrocarbons in our borough as bad for the people of Dunsfold, bad for our natural environment and bad for the planet. The outcome of this judicial review could have a potential impact on the future of onshore drilling for fossil fuels across the country. I would be absolutely delighted if our actions to date in opposing drilling for fossil fuels in Dunsfold puts a stop to new fossil fuel exploitation. This would represent a significant step forward in terms of meaningful action on the climate crisis we now face.”

Farnham resident Clive Teague, a retired engineer, who is 75, and will be attending the protest said: “I want to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and say that I did all I could to stop runaway climate change. This might be just one new gas drilling project, but it is one too many. Every fossil fuel project allowed to go ahead adds to the burden of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere pushing us ever close to climate chaos”.

Kirsty Clough, 47, who lives in Godalming and represents the Weald Action Group said: “The Government has repeatedly told us that the UK is transitioning away from fossil fuels yet since it hosted COP26, the major climate conference, at the end of 2021, it has given the go ahead to several major oil and gas projects. The courts have a crucial role to play in intervening in these decisions and holding the Government to account over their role in the worsening climate crisis. We remain hopeful that the decision to drill in Dunsfold will be overturned”. 

UKOG also faces a long-running legal challenge to their oil drilling site at Horse Hill, Horley in Surrey, which has now reached the Supreme Court and will be heard on 21st June. The outcome of the Horse Hill legal fight could set a precedent for future fossil fuel projects like Rosebank in the North Sea, and even call into question whether the government should have approved a new coal mine in Cumbria. [5]

Notes for editors

[1] Jeremy Hunt letter to Michael Gove

[2] Dunsfold oil drilling plan should be ‘formally shelved’, Jeremy Hunt says

[3] Background to the case and legal argument, Good Law Project

[4] Dunsfold drilling application approved by government

[5] Horse Hill court battle could set precedent that triggers ‘beginning of the end’ of new fossil fuel projects in UK

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