BBC Radio Surrey asked Martin Goodall, a planning expert at Keystone Law, to explain the procedure involved in a High Court action which has been started by Europa Oil and Gas, in which they seek to quash an appeal decision refusing their bid for planning permission to carry out exploratory drilling for oil or gas in the Surrey Hills.
BBC: This morning a company is to appeal to the High Court after its plans to build a 35m oilrig in one of Surrey’s areas of outstanding natural beauty were rejected. Europa Oil and Gas estimates it could extract a million barrels of oil near Coldharbour in the Surrey Hills but in September it was turned down by Surrey County Council and by a Government Planning Inspector. Jack Feene is BBC Surrey’s political reporter.
BBC: The company claims there’s a national need for the development of oil and that it wants to carry out test drilling in Coldharbour which is within an area of outstanding natural beauty. It has been opposed by people living nearby who say there has not been a robust attempt to look for alternative sites. Last year Surrey County Council rejected the idea on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on the area. Europa Oil and Gas took the decision to a Planning Inquiry in July, but two months later a Government Inspector upheld the decision saying he felt it would amount to an inappropriate development. Now the company has decided to challenge this in the High Court.
BBC: Martin Goodall is a Planning Lawyer for Keystone Law. Good morning to you.
MG: Good morning.
BBC: Can you give us an idea of the sort of process that would have been gone through here?
MG: Anyone who has actively participated in a planning appeal and who thinks that there was a legal error in the appeal decision can challenge that decision in the High Court, but only on a point of law – the court won’t reconsider the merits of the case. The company has brought a legal challenge in this case and they are now waiting for a Hearing.
BBC: Can you see why? At least, the company here may think that the inspector’s decision is challengeable?
MG: It was a very complex case and there were a number of difficult issues for the inspector to balance. It may well be that the Company thought that there was a legal error in the way the inspector dealt with some of those issues or that that there was a legal error in the way that the decision was reached. As I say, it is a complex decision; there may well be arguable points there.
BBC: So, can the company only appeal on a point of law?
MG: That’s right.
BBC: Okay. And presumably the court won’t second guess the Planning Inspector.
MG: Precisely. That is exactly right.
BBC: Are challenges like this unusual?
MG: No, there are quite a few cases in the courts each year.
BBC: And what sort of success rate do they tend to have then?
MG: Not very high. I wouldn’t like to put percentages on it, but it’s going to be less than a quarter probably, that succeed.
BBC: I suppose, when you look at what’s at stake for Europa Oil and Gas here, it is almost inevitably that they will look to see if they can appeal and perhaps have success in the High Court.
MG: An appellant would naturally look at a decision like this with a view to challenging, yes.
BBC: Absolutely. Alright well we’ll watch this one with interest. Any idea of sort of timescales involved?
MG: It will be several months before it gets before the court. Once it’s in court it will only take a day, maybe two days, and then the result will be known about two or three weeks later.
BBC: And that’s the furthest they can go. If they lose that, that’s it?
MG: They could go to the Court of Appeal or even the Supreme Court, but those cases are unusual.
BBC: Alright, thank you for your expertise. Good to have you on the programme this morning. Martin Goodall there, planning lawyer for Keystone Law.
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