Home > News > High Court judgment on the environmental impact assessment of oil extraction

On 21 December 2020, Holgate J. handed down judgment in R (Finch) v Surrey CC [2020] EWHC 3566 (Admin), dismissing a challenge to the grant of planning permission for four new oil wells to produce hydrocarbons over a period of 25 years.

The central issue in the claim was whether the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 required an environmental impact assessment (“EIA”) to assess the effects of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from the future combustion of oil produced by the development, typically as a fuel for motor vehicles.

Holgate J. accepted the argument of the planning authority, the developer Horse Hill Developments Limited (“HHDL”), and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that an EIA did not have to assess such effects. At [126], Holgate J. concluded:

The upshot is that the case law confirms that EIA must address the environmental effects, both direct and indirect, of the development for which planning permission is sought, (and also any larger project of which that development forms a part), but there is no requirement to assess matters which are not environmental effects of the development or project. In my judgment the scope of that obligation does not include the environmental effects of consumers using (in locations which are unknown and unrelated to the development site) an end product which will be made in a separate facility from materials to be supplied from the development being assessed. I therefore conclude that, in the circumstances of this case, the assessment of GHG emissions from the future combustion of refined oil products said to emanate from the development site was, as a matter of law, incapable of falling within the scope of the EIA required by the 2017 Regulations for the planning application.

The judge also dismissed the Claimant’s related argument that national policy and guidance on parallel regulatory regimes (see paragraph 183 of the National Planning Policy Framework) was inconsistent with the EIA regime.

The judgment is available here.

HHDL was represented by David Elvin QC and Matthew Fraser, instructed by Hill Dickinson LLP. The Secretary of State was represented by Richard Moules (together with James Maurici QC in written submissions), instructed by the Government Legal Department.

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