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Charles Russell advises AIM listed oil & gas client on successful court of appeal case

25 June 2014

This article was written prior to the formation of Charles Russell Speechlys, through the merger between Charles Russell and Speechly Bircham.

Charles Russell LLP has successfully advised Europa Oil & Gas Limited, subsidiary of the AIM listed exploration and production company focused on Europe (Europa Oil & Gas (Holdings) plc), in the Court of Appeal, against an appeal by the Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) of a High Court judgment.

LHAG had appealed against the July 2013 High Court judgment, in relation to the drilling of an exploratory well at Holmwood. On both occasions, it was held that the Inspector had erred in his interpretation of minerals policy and so, without that error, the planning decision might well have been different.

LHAG applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal last week’s decision to the Supreme Court, but that application was refused.

Europa’s appeal against Surrey County Council’s refusal to grant planning permission to drill an exploratory borehole and undertake a short term test for conventional hydrocarbons at the Holmwood prospect, will therefore be remitted to the Planning Inspectorate for redetermination. This may well involve a further planning inquiry.

Helen Hutton, who led the Charles Russell LLP team, commented: "The case has national significance for the oil and gas industry and it was being tracked in its passage through both the High Court and the Court of Appeal by many other players in the UK hydrocarbon field. This decision will now assist in the exploration for conventional hydrocarbons, by confirming that the same Green Belt exemptions which apply for mineral extraction also apply for exploration, which has to be the logical interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework and County Council’s mineral policies."

Europa’s CEO, Hugh Mackay, commented: “I am very pleased with the support and advice that Charles Russell LLP has provided to Europa on this sensitive and very complex matter over the last 2.5 years”.

Mark Howard, Client Relationship Partner for Charles Russell, said: "We are absolutely delighted to have been able to assist long standing client Europa Oil & Gas (Holdings) plc in this matter. Helen and her team have worked really hard since January 2012 supporting Europa first on its planning appeal against the refusal by Surrey County Council, then on its successful High Court challenge against the Planning Inspectorate's decision and now in its successful defence of that decision. We hope that this Court of Appeal ruling will enable Europa and its partners to press on with the Holmwood prospect".

The case was led by Helen Hutton, with assistance from Hanna Virta and others in the Planning and Real Estate teams. Andrew Newcombe QC and Mark Westmoreland Smith, of Francis Taylor Buildings, represented Europa in Court.