Leith Hill Action Group – Newsletter 26 (19th June2014) 

Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!

Dear Supporters

The result of the Court of Appeal Hearing is finally in and I am very disappointed to have to tell you that we did not win.  The Court of Appeal has found against LHAG’s challenge to the High Court ruling and maintained Europa’s appeal against the Inspector’s decision at the Public Inquiry.

At the Public Inquiry in July 2012, the Planning Inspector found in our favour and rejected Europa’s appeal against Surrey County Council’s decision to refuse Europa planning permission.  In doing so, he concluded that the proposed development for mineral exploration does not constitute mineral extraction.  Without this, the proposed development might not have been “inappropriate development in the green belt”.  The High Court supported Europa’s challenge that the Inspector was wrong to make this conclusion.

The Court of Appeal arguments came down to (i) whether the definition of “mineral extraction” in national policy is intended to be distinct from “mineral exploration” and (ii) if it is not, whether the Planning Inspector would still have reached the same decision in finding against Europa. 

Although current national policy refers to “mineral extraction”, it does not define what this means.  It does, however, have very similar wording to its predecessor national policies with regard to this issue.  These predecessor policies in turn reflect legislative definitions.  Both the predecessor policies and legislation would seem to suggest that mineral exploration is distinct from mineral extraction.  This formed the basis of our defence of the Inspector’s conclusion.

Lord Justice Richards, in his Judgement, commented, “I see the force of [LHAG barrister] Mr Whale’s argument that the expressions used [in the predecessor policy] echoed the statutory definitions and distinctions [between mineral extraction and exploration]”. 

Despite recognising the force of the argument, however, the three Appeal Court Judges decided that the current policy should be read with no regard to previous policies.  They decided that neither the previous policies nor legislation offers any insight into the current definitions.

We do not understand how and why the historical context for interpreting definitions can be thrown away in order to create a brand new interpretation.  Nevertheless, this is what the Court of Appeal has decided.

We are now considering carefully our best next step.  It is important that you understand, however, that the Court of Appeal decision does not mean that planning application has been granted. 

Instead, it merely undoes the decision of the planning inspector.  It places us back in a position in which Surrey County Council has refused planning permission and Europa have appealed against that decision.   What happens next is in the hands of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but the usual course of action would be for a fresh Public Inquiry to be ordered.  We continue to fight against this inappropriate application and will keep you all informed on our next actions.

Patrick Nolan

The Leith Hill Action Group