Campaigners get go-ahead to challenge plans for oilfield in Lincolnshire Wolds

<span>Amanda Suddaby (left) and Mathilda Dennis from the campaign group SOS Biscathorpe.</span><span>Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer</span>
Amanda Suddaby (left) and Mathilda Dennis from the campaign group SOS Biscathorpe.Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Campaigners have been given permission to challenge plans for a new oilfield in an area of outstanding natural beauty – which they say threatens one of England’s “hidden rural treasures”.

The proposed oil-drilling operation is in Biscathorpe in the Lincolnshire Wolds, an important habitat for nature and wildlife that has been officially designated an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The plans were rejected by the local council in 2021 but the oil company Egdon appealed against the decision and in November it was overturned by the government’s Planning Inspectorate, infuriating locals and environmentalists.

Now campaigners have been granted permission to seek a judicial review of the ruling in the high court.

Amanda Suddaby, from the local campaign group SOS Biscathorpe, said: “It’s absolutely stunning countryside. There’s this myth that Lincolnshire is flat but you have to see the Lincolnshire Wold to understand that it is anything but, it’s beautiful rolling hills and valleys … It is terrible to think this is at risk.”

The government has been widely criticised for pushing ahead with new oil and gas extraction in the midst of a climate emergency, with their own climate advisers, the International Energy Agency and hundreds of scientists and experts saying that no new oil and gas exploration can take place if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C above preindustrial temperatures.

Despite this, Rishi Sunak has vowed to “max out” the UK’s oil reserves, ploughing ahead with huge new oilfields in the North Sea as well as three new onshore drilling operations in England.

Dale Vince, the green industrialist, who is supporting the Biscathorpe campaign, said the UK’s “fossil fuel obsessed government” was trying to overturn the local planning process, ignoring “the climate crisis, economic reality, and local views”.

“This isn’t leadership and it’s not what our country needs. Why are we investing in the old economy rather than the new one, where the money we spend generates twice as many jobs and nearly three times the GDP growth?”

Suddaby said the plans for a new oil well were unpopular locally. “At all levels of local democracy I think everybody who could say no said no … but still they are trying to ignore that.”

She said there was a rare and ecologically important chalk stream near the site and when people hear what is being proposed they are “often upset and angry … but mostly they are shocked”.

“They assumed that regulatory agencies and the government has our best interests at heart and it is disconcerting to find that is not the case.”

Julia Eriksen, from Leigh Day solicitors, who is representing the campaigners in court, said they would argue that the secretary of state had acted unlawfully and irrationally in overturning Lincolnshire county council’s decision to refuse planning permission.

The area’s Tory MP, Victoria Atkins, came out against the plans in 2021, writing the proposals “represent the industrialisation of the Lincolnshire Wolds” adding that “as the UK strives to achieve net zero by 2050 … we must be cautious to ensure that we do not allow an application to go ahead that will do long-term damage to the Lincolnshire Wolds, its natural environment and our local communities”.

However, Atkins – who is now health secretary – did not respond when asked whether she was still opposed to the proposals.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero declined to comment on the case, instead issuing a general statement defending the UK’s decision to “max out” oil and gas in the midst of a climate crisis.

A spokesperson for the department advised the Guardian to approach the Planning Inspectorate, which in turn declined to comment as the case was being legally challenged.

Mark Abbott, the CEO of Egdon, responded by saying it would rather not drill in an AONB “but could not control where oil is located”.

He added there were extremely rigorous protection measures in place to protect the local environment.

“We’re happy to arrange for the local community to visit the site whilst we implement these important protection measures, so that they can see for themselves how seriously Egdon takes its environmental responsibilities.”