“Extraordinary” Dunsfold drilling plan takes UK in wrong direction – ex Tory leadership contender

The former Conservative leadership contender, Jeremy Hunt, said today it was “extraordinary” that the UK, with its net zero target, was even thinking about plans to drill for gas at Dunsfold in Surrey.

Jeremy Hunt MP with Waverly Borough Council leader, Paul Follows (left) and
environment portfolio holder Steve Williams (right). Photo: DrillOrDrop

Speaking at a opposition demonstration near the proposed exploration site, he said the scheme by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) would take the country in “exactly the wrong direction”. Mr Hunt, the local MP and former foreign secretary, lost out to Boris Johnson in the 2019 Tory leadership contest.

He spent about half an hour at the demonstration, which the organisers said aimed to show that large heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) would not be able to manoeuvre around a tight junction without encroaching on common land.

Jeremy Hunt MP speaking in Dunsfold, 8 January 2022. Video: DrillOrDrop

Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 villagers, he said:

“It is absolutely extraordinary after COP26 in Glasgow that we are even thinking about drilling for oil and gas in this area. And you can see, by the huge number of people here representing all the local political parties, that we are completely united in our opposition.

“We are opposed on both local environmental grounds because of the impact the huge lorries and HGVs will have – and you’re about to see a human carbon neutral demonstration of what that might be. “But we are also against it because we know that just under a third of all emissions are caused by generating electricity for human use through non-sustainable purposes. And that is why we have to get off the habit of using oil and gas for our everyday electricity and this is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.”

The proposed drill site, also known as Loxley, was refused twice by Surrey County Council in 2020 and went to a public inquiry in 2021.

Last week, it was announced that the communities’ secretary, Michael Gove, also a Surrey MP, would make the final decision on the scheme. Mr Hunt had this advice for ministers:

“Listen to what people in the local area are saying and also what the government itself is saying about its environmental objectives. We’ve got to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 on 1990 levels.

This is going to take us in the wrong direction.”

Jeremy Hunt speaking at Dunsfold, 8 January 2022. Video: DrillOrDrop

Local Lib Dem, Conservative and Green Party politicians joined environmental campaigners and villagers at the Pratts Corner junction for the demonstration. If the site is approved, lorries would have to navigate the junction to reach the access track off a narrow country lane.

Opponents said today it was impossible to do this without at least part of an HGV encroaching on common land on the verges.

“Extraordinary” Dunsfold drilling plan takes UK in wrong direction – ex Tory leadership contenderUKOG document submitted to the public inquiry, which opponents say shows that lorries will have to encroach on common land to navigate the junction. Source: public inquiry documents

They stood with their toes on the edge of the verge as a life-size simulation of an HGV attempted to navigate the junction.

“Extraordinary” Dunsfold drilling plan takes UK in wrong direction – ex Tory leadership contenderSimulation of a heavy goods vehicle navigating Pratts Corner junction near Dunsfold. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Waverley Borough Council, which is responsible for the common land, has said it would not give permission to site vehicles to cross the common land.

Its leader, Paul Follows, told DrillOrDrop:

“If the application is approved the council is prepared to fight to protect the common land verges at Dunsfold.”

He said the council would install cameras at the junction and he expected local people would monitor traffic to the site. The council’s environment portfolio holder, Steve Williams, described the demonstration as “a magnificent event”:

“It demonstrated that it is not possible for HGVs, such as those used by UKOG, to get to the site that they propose to drill without encroaching on Waverley common land.”

“Extraordinary” Dunsfold drilling plan takes UK in wrong direction – ex Tory leadership contenderPhoto: DrillOrDrop

Referring to a slogan from World War 1 and the Spanish Civil War, he said his message to UKOG was

“They shall not pass”.

The landowner of the proposed site, Ashley Ward, told DrillOrDrop lorries containing 44 cattle had successfully been around the junction onto High Loxley Road. He said the UKOG scheme included plans to improve the Pratts Corner junction.

UKOG told the public inquiry that the HGV route to the proposed site was suitable and the scheme would not adversely affect highway safety. DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to comment on the demonstration. This article will be updated with any response.

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