Cop26: Government urged to stop new oil drilling in Surrey as ministers accused of climate ‘hypocrisy’

Summit president asked how China can be ‘held to account’ if UK permits oil drilling

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 20 October 2021 10:40
Climate Change: COP26 might change our world

Boris Johnson’s government has been urged to change course over its support for new oil drilling in Surrey or risk “hypocrisy” at the crucial Cop26 climate conference.

The government is set to defend in court a decision by Surrey council to grant planning permission for oil well drilling only a few days after the crucial international summit in Glasgow end next month.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has written to climate minister Alok Sharma – president of the Cop26 summit – urging him to push for the drilling application to be called in and refused.

In a letter shared with The Independent, Davey wrote: “This new oil field is the equivalent to ministerial colleagues breaking your cricket bat just as you walk out to the crease at Cop26.”

The Lib Dem leader added: “Your job is to hold China to account for their new oil infrastructure – how can you do that when your government is building its own?”

Davey also told Sharma: “As the minister responsible for Cop26, you must put party allegiances aside, and call for the government to oppose this new oil field and immediately call in the planning application.”

In 2019 Surrey County Council approved an application from Horse Hill Developments – a subsidiary of UK Oil and Gas – to drill for an estimated three million tonnes of oil outside the town of Horley, near Gatwick airport.

Although the High Court has upheld the decision after a challenged by resident and campaigner Sarah Finch, a further appeal case will be heard at the Court of Appeal on 16 November.

Both the Lib Dems and Friends of the Earth are urging the government not to support the local authority’s case next month.

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s the height of hypocrisy for the government to claim to be a climate leader on the global stage while piling into court to defend a decision to allow millions of barrels of oil to be drilled out of the Surrey countryside.”

The climate campaigner added: “They need to withdraw from this case now.”

The communities department, now headed up by Michael Gove, remains involved in the case since the drilling application relates to national planning policy.

On Tuesday the government published its long-awaited net zero strategy document, detailing plans for Britain to be entirely powered entirely by clean electricity by 2035.

But Greenpeace said the plan was only “half hearted” and condemned the failure to make a firm commitment to ending new oil and gas licences.

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, told The Independent: “Oil drilling, a new coal mine, airport expansions – all are completely incompatible with our plans to slash emissions, yet these projects are being signed off and the government seems reluctant to intervene.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This decision by Surrey council is subject to a legal challenge, we do not comment about ongoing cases.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments