On Monday 29th June 2020 Surrey County Council refused this planning application. We await final details of the reasons for the refusal but we note that, having evaluated the application, the County Council’s officers recommended approval and that the voting was six councillors in support of refusal and five councillors in favour of the application.
Dunsfold Parish Council, as a statutory consultee, consistently objected to this application and, indeed, contributed to the costs incurred by Protect Dunsfold in providing an expert report on traffic issues arising from the application which was submitted to Surrey County Council earlier this year.
However, this refusal is not the end of the matter.
The applicant, a subsidiary of UK Oil and Gas PLC (“UKOG”), is entitled to appeal that refusal. Arguably, the indicative reasons for the refusal are limited and may be difficult for the planning authority to sustain on any appeal. In any event, an applicant always has a stronger case if the planning officers recommended approval as is the case here.
Whilst the UK Government has announced a moratorium against fracking in this country the Parish Council is not aware of anything similar in respect of hydrocarbon exploitation in the manner proposed by UKOG. If that is correct, UK Government policy still supports this proposal. (Policy does change: for example, the current UK Government recently ended the English moratorium on onshore wind farms). Cynically, what our Surrey councillors have done is simply to kick the problem out of their back yard. Which is politically understandable, particularly in light of that Council’s statements relating to the climate change emergency, but does not bring the issue to a conclusion.
UKOG’s shares are listed and there are requirements for the parent company to make appropriate announcements for investors. UKOG announced on Monday 29th June 2020 that the Group is considering its position, i.e. awaiting sight of the official decision letter, but it is clear to the Parish Council from that announcement that UKOG is considering an appeal, that UKOG believes the County Council’s officers were correct in recommending approval and that UKOG’s Chief Executive is confident of eventually being successful.
Therefore, whilst it is a relief that this application has been refused, such a refusal may not be the final resolution which the Parish Council appreciates residents in Dunsfold have been seeking.