Waverley Borough Council’s executive has expressed “profound dismay” at the outcome of a planning appeal which allows oil and gas exploration to take place at the Loxley Well site near Dunsfold.

On Tuesday, the Right Hon Stuart Andrew MP, Minister for Housing, acting for the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities overturned Surrey County Council’s refusal of planning consent for an exploratory well at the site.

The borough council has consistently expressed its opposition in the strongest possible terms to the plans, which it says will have damaging repercussions for the environment, local businesses and residents.

The original planning application, for an exploratory well, was refused in December 2020 by a Surrey County Council planning committee. It cited concerns regarding highway safety and the impact on the landscape as reasons for refusal.

Applicant UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) appealed the decision, leading to a public inquiry which began on July 27, 2021. A planning consultant and landscape expert represented Waverley and local residents in opposing the proposal to allow drilling for hydrocarbons at the site.

Waverley has led its opposition to the planning application following the council’s first community Listening Panel in July 2019. The panel saw 21 local residents and community groups highlight numerous concerns with the plans.

Councillor Steve Williams, Waverley’s portfolio holder for environment and sustainability, said: “This is the worst possible outcome for the people of Waverley, and we are bitterly disappointed at the Secretary of State’s decision. Without doubt, allowing this planning application will lead to irreversible harm to our environment and to local people.

“We are very concerned about the lack of a risk assessment relating to the release of extremely toxic hydrogen sulphide gas, the loss of ancient woodland, impacts on local businesses, protected species and other local wildlife and the detrimental impact on the landscape and adjacent area of outstanding natural beauty.”

The council also has concerns that UKOG does not appear to have the funds to pay for reinstatement of the site so that if oil is not found in commercially viable quantities, the company can simply walk away, effectively transferring liability for clean-up and restoration costs to the local community.

Councillor Williams added: “The success of this appeal is deeply troubling for the people of Waverley. UKOG can effectively ruin part of the environment, decide that drilling won’t make them any money and then dump the problem of clearing the mess up on the people of Waverley. This is simply not acceptable.”