Climate emergency: calls for action at Surrey County Council

When I arrived at the Surrey County Council meeting this morning, I found a colourful protest outside County Hall. Extinction Rebellion was protesting about the Council’s failure to act fast enough after declaring a Climate Emergency in July (this was at the second time of asking – the Council rejected my Climate Emergency motion in March).

In particular, the XR rebels were highlighting that just two months after recognising the Climate Emergency, Surrey’s Planning Committee gave the go-ahead to 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill, near Horley. The oil company UKOG now has permission to extract up to 3,500 barrels of oil every day for 20 years – thereby adding an estimated 10 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere according to XR’s calculations.

20 years of extraction takes us way past the time when we need to have reached ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The government’s net zero target alone should have been enough to turn down the application.

Cllr Oliver said: “The planning committee, as I understand it, complied with legislation. There were no planning guidelines on which to oppose the application. Extinction Rebellion should be lobbying government.”

But the planning permission is subject to a judicial review, with lawyers arguing that the planning committee didn’t comply with UK climate policy or regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

At the council meeting, we discussed a ‘Call for Action’ from Surrey’s Greener Future Task Group, which I am part of. It sets the scale of the challenge – now the Council has to respond with real plans. I have urged for sufficient investment  and public engagement (such as through a climate citizen assembly or jury) so that our action-plan for Surrey matches the  scale and urgency of change required.

However, the Call to Action doesn’t address some important issues which make a major contribution to Surrey’s greenhouse gas emissions.

  • One of these is oil drilling (as well as Horse Hill, an application for exploratory oil and gas drilling at Dunsfold is due for decision in January). This needs the council to strengthen its planning policies and start to properly take account of climate change in planning decisions.
  • Another is airport expansion. At the Council meeting this morning I asked the Council leader whether he would confirm the Council’s opposition to expansion of Gatwick Airport – whose owners want to build a new runway. This alone will result in more carbon emissions than the whole of Reigate and Banstead.  I didn’t get an answer.

Both locally in Surrey and nationally – we need politicians who understand the scale of the climate crisis and the urgency with which it needs to be addressed. I hope voters will bear that in mind on Thursday – and in May 2021, when the County Council seats are next up for re-election.