Mineral Exploration Planning for Green Belt

Europa Oil and Gas Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Others [2013] involved a planning application for construction of an exploratory drill site to include plant, buildings and equipment; the use of the drill site for the drilling of one exploratory borehole and the subsequent short term testing for hydrocarbons; the erection of security fencing and the carrying out of associated works to an existing access and track all on 0.79ha, for a temporary period of up to 3 years, with restoration to forestry – in a Green Belt area.

Surrey County Council refused permission in 2011 contrary to its officer’s recommendations. On appeal this refusal was upheld by the Inspector, though for reasons which included Green Belt considerations.

Quashing the Inspector’s decision, the High Court ruled that it was a mining operation as exploration for mining operations and later production from mining operations were one and the same thing and so the Inspector erred in concluding they were not mining operations which, like engineering operations, might be permitted if appropriate to a Green Belt area.

Secondly those opposing mineral extraction or engineering operations as inappropriate in a green belt area had to identify a specific harm which made them inappropriate to a Green Belt Area.

Due to its short duration, and the environmental precautions, being taken this exploratory set up might be quite appropriate and suitable weight had not been given to this by the Inspector at the appeal.

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