Plans to drill for gas in the Surrey Hills will be subject to judicial review and could be halted, after local activists took the government to the high court.
Ministers previously gave the go-ahead for three years of exploratory drilling at a site near Dunsfold on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The scheme had been rejected by Surrey County Council, but a subsequent public inquiry recommended that it go ahead, a decision which was later assessed by the Department of Grading, Housing and Communities, which approved it.
Ian Browne, legal manager at the Good Law Project, which supported the campaign, said: “It is outrageous that the government would override Surrey council and the local community to give the green light to a fossil fuel exploration project, which would cause irreparable damage. to the landscape, forests and natural habitats on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “This is a victory for the local people who stood up to both the government and powerful oil magnates. I am proud of the Liberal Democrat-led Waverley council, which… secured a historic decision for their community.
“It is shameful that Conservative ministers and even Conservative MPs in Surrey have endorsed this ghastly new oilfield. It is shameful that Michael Gove has taken this to the high court instead of listening to the concerns of the local people of Surrey.
“The green hills of Surrey must be protected at all costs. We cannot lose a precious part of the country to polluting and speculative companies that do not take the environment into account. The Conservative government must now listen.”