The Government has given permission for gas drilling to start in rural Surrey despite strong opposition from the local Conservative council and former minister Jeremy Hunt.

Housing minister Stuart Andrew has approved plans for UK Oil and Gas to explore a site in Dunsfold, which is part of the South West Surrey constituency represented by Mr Hunt, for three years.

Writing on Twitter on Thursday, Mr Hunt blasted the decision as “bitterly disappointing and wrong both economically and environmentally”.

In a letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove, he said the project has been strongly opposed by Surrey County Council and “the entire local community”.

He accused the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) of “ignoring the strength of local opinion”, causing “enormous anger and disappointment across all political parties” while also damaging the Government’s own commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Mr Hunt wrote: “In short, it will create enormous disruption and environmental damage for little if any economic benefit.”

The DLUHC has said the approval for gas exploration was given by Mr Andrew on behalf of the Housing Secretary because of the proximity of Mr Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency to the area.

Surrey County Council said its planning committee refused permission for the proposal in December 2019, but following a public inquiry in 2021, planning inspectors recommended that an appeal against this decision should be allowed.

The council said it is “disappointed” that the plans will be going ahead.

A spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State has allowed the appeal and granted planning permission for the construction, operation and decommissioning of a well site for the exploration and appraisal of hydrocarbons, for a temporary period of three years at land south of Dunsfold Road and East of High Loxley Road, Dunsfold.

“The council is disappointed that the committee’s refusal was not upheld.”

Stephen Sanderson, chief executive of UK Oil and Gas, said: “We welcome this decision and its backing for Loxley’s gas as a secure, sustainable energy source with a far lower pre-combustion carbon footprint than imports.

“Backing UK domestic gas makes strategic, economic and environmental good sense. We look forward to moving the Loxley project forwards and to working constructively with the local community.”