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Date posted: 21 July 2023

Waverley councillors bitterly disappointed by Dunsfold drilling decision

The hopes of councillors and local residents were dashed, as their challenge to a decision to allow oil and gas exploration at the Loxley Well site near Dunsfold, was refused by a High Court Judge.

The proposed well site is in countryside beyond the Green Belt and lies adjacent to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In June 2019, Waverley Borough Council held its first ever Listening Panel, at which 21 residents and community groups set out a range of reasons they believed a well at the site would have disastrous consequences for the community and the environment. Local people expressed views that there would be damaging impacts on the landscape, wildlife - including Red Listed birds and other protected species, local businesses and residents. In addition, there were concerns that the planning applicant’s proposed ‘unconventional extraction’ methods were potentially fraught with severe environmental risks.

The original planning application for an exploratory well was refused in December 2020 by a Surrey County Council planning committee. It cited concerns regarding highway safety and the impact on the landscape as reasons for refusal. Waverley Borough Council has consistently expressed its opposition to the plans.

At a planning inquiry in July 2021, the Secretary of State overturned Surrey County Council’s refusal of the planning application. In March this year, the borough council and a local community group ‘Protect Dunsfold’ won the right to a Judicial Review of the planning inquiry. They were granted permission to challenge the decision on several grounds, including that allowing further on-shore hydrocarbon exploration is inconsistent with the Government’s declared Climate Emergency.

Following the latest ruling, the council is seeking legal advice and considering an appeal.

Councillor Steve Williams, Waverley Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Environment and Sustainability, said: “At every stage in the long and tortured history of this planning application, local people have demonstrated their overwhelming opposition to any exploration for hydrocarbons at Dunsfold.

“More importantly, due to global heating vast areas of the Earth are literally on fire, and we desperately need to see the Government recognise that in its policies. The time for kicking the can down the road has long passed. We are either serious about ending the economic model based on digging carbon out of the ground and pumping it into our atmosphere, or we’re not.

“The government’s decision to allow drilling for fossil fuels in the Surrey countryside represents an abject failure to take seriously its commitment to tackling the climate emergency we now face.”

Councillor Paul Follows, Leader of Waverley Borough Council, said: “This decision is quite simply, wrong on every level. If drilling goes ahead at this site there would be damaging impacts on the landscape, wildlife, local businesses and residents.

“On top of this, onshore extraction of fossil fuels is totally incompatible with the Climate Emergency declared by Waverley Borough Council, Surrey County Council, and our national government. In this country we need to rapidly increase our investment in renewables, where we are genuinely world leaders, focussing our energy generation on sustainable methods such as offshore wind, and stop ripping up the Surrey Hills looking for oil and gas.

“The judgement today is bad for local communities, bad for the local environment and sets a precedent that is very bad for the planet and for future generations.”

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