Anger at drilling decision in Surrey countryside

Barry White

The government has approved plans to drill for gas near an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Surrey countryside, provoking “fury and despair” from environmentalists, residents and the local MP Jeremy Hunt. Housing minister Stuart Andrew overruled local councils (including Surrey County Council), to agree drilling at Loxley well near Dunsfold (pictured), a 13th century village close to the A281 between Guildford (Surrey) and Horsham in West Sussex. Campaigners said the decision “makes a mockery” of government claims to be taking the climate crisis seriously and warned it would irreversibly damage the area.

The site is in the South West Surrey constituency of former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who criticised the decision as “bitterly disappointing and wrong both economically and environmentally”.

The energy firm UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) had appealed against the refusal of its plans by Surrey County Council, but a planning inquiry last year resulted in an inspector concluding the drilling should be allowed. UKOG chief executive Steve Sanderson has welcomed the government’s decision.

Not so Tom Fyans, head of campaigns and policy at CPRE, the countryside charity who said: “Approving the drilling of a gas well in the Surrey countryside is an absurd decision that’s guaranteed to provoke fury and despair.

“It’s extraordinary, given the urgent need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, that the government sees fit to greenlight a gas field and damage the setting of an area of outstanding natural beauty.

“Given the scale of opposition to this plan – with the local council, local MP and local people all united in their anger – it is hard to see how the project can go ahead without mass protests.”

Mr Fyans said it was “utterly bizarre” the government had approved the drilling on the same day it rejected permission for work at two fracking sites on the grounds that shale gas drilling was incompatible with net zero goals and public health concerns.

Such a contradictory approach to the climate crisis suggested the government was not serious, he added.

James Knapp, from the Weald Action Group, which had protested against the drilling, said its members were deeply disappointed over the “unbelievable” decision.

“Even if the site is proven commercially viable, it will take years for new gas production to come on stream so will do nothing to alleviate the current energy price crisis,” he said.

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Picture: Dunsfold (from Dunsford Parish Council’s web site)

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