Waverley Borough Council’s Executive have agreed to seek permission to challenge the planning appeal decision which allowed exploratory oil and gas drilling at Loxley, a site just north of Dunsfold. In May this year, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities overturned Surrey County Council's refusal of planning consent for an exploratory well and side-track at the site.
A Special Executive meeting was held on Monday 18 July, to give councillors the opportunity to discuss and agree their response to the ruling. Waverley has consistently expressed its opposition to any oil and gas exploration at the site, which lies in the Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) immediately adjacent to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
In July 2019, the council held its first community Listening Panel, which saw 21 speakers highlight numerous concerns with the plans. A number of local business owners, including a popular wedding venue, a successful craft brewery and a globally recognised wellbeing festival for cancer sufferers all stated that the oil well would render their business unviable and lead to loss of jobs locally.
Local residents and community groups expressed concerns about the poor road access to the site including an extremely constrained and dangerous road junction and sharp bends, as well as noise, light and air pollution, the loss of ancient woodland, impacts on local wildlife (including Red Listed species) and the detrimental impact on the landscape and the nearby Hascombe Hill AONB.
Councillor Paul Follows, Leader of Waverley Borough Council, said: “Drilling for gas at Dunsfold will lead to irreversible harm to our environment, to local businesses and to local people. We are absolutely opposed to it in any form and will consider all legal means to stop it.
“It is completely at odds with our declared Climate Emergency and similar declarations made by the County Council and the government. In this country, we should be massively increasing our investment in renewables where we have genuine competitive advantage, such as offshore wind, rather than onshore oil and gas in the middle of the Surrey Hills.
Concerns have also been raised that the applicant, UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), does not appear to have the ability to pay for reinstatement of the site. This could mean that if hydrocarbons are not found in profitable quantities, the company could simply walk away, effectively transferring liability for clean-up costs to the local community.
Councillor Follows continued: “As an absolute minimum, they should be required to post a bond which covers the entire cost of restoration of the site before they are allowed to drill there.”
The council will now wait to find our if permission is granted to proceed with a challenge to the decision.