Gas drilling at a site in the Surrey Hills can go ahead after the court of appeal ruled that no further attempts to stop the project could be brought to court.
The Loxley site, just outside the village of Dunsfold, has been at the centre of a protracted legal battle over plans by the energy company UK Oil and Gas (Ukog) to sink an exploration well.
The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has faced criticism after being accused of not sufficiently opposing the scheme since taking his cabinet position.
Before becoming chancellor, Hunt had previously said the drilling would “create enormous disruption and environmental damage for little if any economic benefit”, and attended protests against the scheme. However, since being appointed to cabinet he has remained quiet.
After the decision, Hunt tweeted: “I am bitterly disappointed to learn that the court of appeal has today refused permission for any further appeal against the Ukog planning consent for the Loxley gas well outside Dunsfold. I stand ready to provide my assistance and support to local communities in any way possible going forwards.”
Hunt is under pressure from the Liberal Democrats in his South West Surrey constituency, where he has a majority of 8,000. The local environmental issue has angered many of his constituents, who have complained about the noise and environmental impacts of drilling for gas near the Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty.
The Liberal Democrats environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “This is a shameful outcome. This Conservative government’s policies have resulted in greedy gas barons ripping up the Surrey Hills. They have railroaded this through the courts despite local outrage at the plans.
“Surrey’s green land is about to be torn up, proving you simply can’t trust the Conservatives on the environment. As the local MP, Jeremy Hunt must now intervene. He is supporting a policy which will allow his constituency to become an oilfield. Local people will be furious at his silence.”
Stephen Sanderson, Ukog’s chief executive, said: “We are pleased that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has once again dismissed the legal challenge to our Loxley project and has confirmed that its planning consent is entirely lawful, as the company and its counsel has maintained. We believe that a successful project will be beneficial to local and national level energy and economic interests and is fully in keeping with the government’s hydrogen, energy security and net zero strategies.”