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High Court hears legal challenge against Surrey oil development

Case could have wide-ranging implications for future carbon-intense proposals

Press release from Friends of the Earth

A legal challenge to Surrey County Council’s decision to allow 20 years of oil drilling and production to take place near Gatwick airport begins in the High Court today.

The judicial review is brought by Redhill resident Sarah Finch, supported by the Weald Action Group, an umbrella for local groups campaigning against the extraction of oil and gas in the South of England.

Lawyers on behalf of Sarah Finch will argue that the environmental assessment used as part of Surrey County Council’s decision-making process for the proposed oil development should have considered the full climate impacts in the context of the current climate emergency.

If successful, the challenge could have wide-ranging implications for planning applications for other carbon-intense projects, and for projects which have environmental impacts which occur off-site or over a period of time.

The challenge is being supported by Friends of the Earth, which has made a legal intervention on the basis that the failure to consider the downstream greenhouse gas emissions of the development was unlawful, drawing on its expertise in climate litigation and its perspective as a national, grassroots campaigning organisation.

Sarah has been campaigning against the Horse Hill oil drilling operation since 2013, after the council granted planning permission for an exploratory oil well on the site. She has campaigned with others against the proposed expansion of the site, which would allow five new wells (four for oil production and one for water reinjection) and commercial oil production for 20 years. It is estimated that over 3 million tonnes of oil would be produced.

Sarah’s claim for judicial review of the decision-making by Surrey County Council is on the following grounds:

  • A failure to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations because it failed to assess the indirect greenhouse gas impacts of the development from burning the oil to be produced and it failed to consider the UK’s Net Zero Target.
  • An error of law in interpreting the National Planning Policy Framework and Minerals Planning Practice Guidance so as to permit exclusion of an assessment of the downstream GHG emissions from the oil.

Sarah Finch said:

“I believe the council’s decision to grant permission for more oil production at Horse Hill without considering the full climate impacts was wholly wrong.

“The Prime Minister is right: there’s no time to waste on tackling the climate emergency. It is shocking that while the futures of our children and grandchildren are threatened, permission is still being granted for the production of fossil fuels, the very things fuelling the climate crisis.”

Friends of the Earth in-house lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:

“It’s astonishing that Surrey County Council should declare a climate emergency in July 2019, and then give the go-ahead to 20 years of oil drilling a few months later. Government at all levels needs to wake up to the climate crisis, with actions and not just words.

“We’re delighted to be supporting this important legal challenge brought by local campaigner Sarah Finch. We believe that authorising this development was unlawful because it failed to consider the climate impacts from the use of the oil produced.

“We maintain that this is a breach of the precautionary principle as these emissions are likely to have a significant effect on the environment – and if they’re not taken into account at this stage, they won’t be at all.

“This decision leaves a yawning gap in the environmental protection regime, which is extremely dangerous in the context of the climate crisis.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“Our client believes that, when Surrey County Council gave its permission for the proposed development, it did not take account of the full environmental impact it would have. That meant no regulation whatsoever of the resulting carbon emissions.

“Since the Court of Appeal ruled earlier this year that policy approval for Heathrow airport expansion was unlawful, it has been very clear that the UK planning system must ensure at every level that all climate change impacts are properly considered. This must include consideration of the Net Zero Target.”


  1. The hearing will take place on 17 & 18 November 2020. The hearing is taking place remotely. The judicial review hearing will be held remotely.  A link to the hearing can be obtained from the Administrative Court Office:
  2. Sarah Finch is represented by Leigh Day solicitors, as well as Marc Willers QC (Garden Court Chambers) and Estelle Dehon (Cornerstone Chambers). Friends of the Earth is represented by Nina Pindham of No 5 Chambers.
  3. The application for the oil development was made by Horse Hill Developments Ltd.

New campaign video: Horse Hill – we say no

Frack Free Surrey – along with the Weald Action Group and Back Off Horse Hill – has produced a short film about our campaign against the oil developments at Horse Hill.

The video exposes oil company UK Oil & Gas Plc’s plans for massive expansion of oil production across South East England – including footage of CEO Stephen Sanderson talking of the potential for “several thousand” wells in the region.

Last year, UKOG got planning permission for 20 years of commercial oil production at Horse Hill – a decision which is being challenged in the courts this week. They also have applications pending for developments at Dunsfold (to be decided by Surrey County Council on 27 November) and the Isle of Wight.

The film also shows the strength of community opposition to this destructive industry. Please watch and share!


National environment organisation and Government minister to participate in judicial review on Horse Hill

Press release from the Weald Action Group

Sarah Finch speaks to XR activists at Horse Hill in September 2020

The environmental organisation Friends of the Earth and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government have been granted permission to participate in a local campaigners’ legal challenge over oil production at Horse Hill, near Gatwick in Surrey.

Campaigner Sarah Finch is bringing a Judicial Review of Surrey County Council’s decision to grant an onshore oil company planning permission for four new oil wells and 20 years of oil production. Friends of the Earth had applied to make a legal intervention to support the challenge; the Secretary of State applied to be joined in order to oppose the challenge.

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Faith at the Gate 1 November 2020: Remembrance for Lost Species

Faith at the Gate at Horse Hill on Sunday 1 November will remember species eradicated by, or in danger of extinction because of, extractive industries.

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New briefing: Why we don’t need more onshore oil in the UK

Press release from the Weald Action Group

UK Government energy policy and local planning rules on onshore oil developments need to change, say campaigners.

The Weald Action Group has published a briefing Why we don’t need more onshore oil in the UK, which refutes claims made by the onshore oil industry that their developments are needed to maintain energy security, that UK oil has a lower carbon footprint than imported oil, that they provide local jobs and that they are needed for plastic production.

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Campaigners celebrate as oil companies walk away from Leith Hill

Press release from A Voice for Leith Hill

Campaigners at Leith Hill

Campaigners are celebrating as a cohort of onshore oil firms have been forced to walk away from the controversial proposed oil drilling site at Leith Hill in Surrey.

The consortium of UK Oil & Gas Plc (UKOG), Angus Energy and Egdon Resources Ltd has decided to relinquish the licence after concluding that “the required long-reach/shallow target-depth wells are neither technically viable or economically feasible”.  

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‘Art for the Earth’: Online art sale to raise funds for Horse Hill legal challenge

Fox and Pigeon, by Edori Fertig

The Weald Action Group is holding an online art sale to raise funds for the judicial review brought by Sarah Finch challenging Surrey County Council’s decision to allow a massive expansion of oil drilling at Horse Hill.

Contributing artists including Ackroyd and Harvey, Merlyn Chesterman RE and Surrey-based Kiri Jones and Ali Tomlin are taking part in the sale, organised by Ann Stewart, which is found at

Work on sale includes paintings, woodcuts, photographic prints, ceramics and glassware, at prices ranging from £25 to £1,000. Artists will donate 33% of the sale price – and in some cases 100% – to the cause.

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Fathers occupy drill rig at Horse Hill to call for an end to fossil fuel extraction

Two fathers in their 50s have occupied a drill rig at the Horse Hill site, in protest at the plans to scale up oil production at the site.

According to a press release from Extinction Rebellion, the two men entered the site in the early hours of this morning (10 October), using an access ladder to climb the rig to a platform approximately 15 metres above the ground. They have hung a banner from the rig saying “No More Oil” and are refusing to come down from the platform.

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Faith at the Gate is back on 4 October

The monthly Faith at the Gate gathering at the gates of the Horse Hill drill site will start again on 4 October, after a break in September.

Each month since December 2019, local people of faith, residents and campaign groups have gathered at Horse Hill to stand in solidarity with our Earth and all who defend her and pray for a swift end to extractivism.

During the COVID-19 lockdown measures, Faith at the Gate moved online. The October event will be a hybrid – with some people socially distancing at the gates and others joining via Zoom.

Those going in person will meet at the gates at 7.30pm. Wear a mask and make sure to keep 2 metres from anyone not in your household at all times. Those joining by Zoom, please check the Facebook event page for the Zoom link closer to the time.

The event will most probably involve a song, an inclusive prayer and some silence, so please come along for this symbolic act of solidarity with our earth and protest against its desecration. Bring a tea light and a small square prayer flag.


Eco activists “slow walk” Horse Hill tanker to protest future fossil fuel production

Press Release from Extinction Rebellion Surrey

Protesters in front of a tanker at the junction of Horse Hill and Reigate RoadExtinction Rebellion and other eco activists slowly walked in front of a tanker this morning (3 August) en route to UKOG’s Horse Hill production site.

The slow walk saw around 20 Covid-19 masked activists gather near the junction of Horse Hill and Reigate Road and proceed at a snail’s pace in front of the tanker to protest the continued expansion of fossil fuel development in the midst of the climate emergency.

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