Protestors from Extinction Rebellion targeted Surrey County Council (SCC)'s budget meeting in Kingston yesterday (Tuesday, February 4).

The environmental activists are demanding SCC cease all planning permission for oil exploration and extraction and refuse permission for further exploration at other sites in the county.

They are also calling on SCC to divest its pension fund from all oil and gas industry investments.

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Protestors demonstrated outside SCC Town Hall in Kingston with flags and banners, while one activist gained access inside the meeting hall itself.

She wore a sign that read "I Am Mother Earth", and staged a silent protest, appearing gagged and dressed in symbolic clothing reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's dystopia The Handmaid's Tale.

Dorking teacher and parent Sophie Blond, an XR member who took part in the protest, described her decision to take part in the action:

"I came here today as the council passed its budget because I feel it is our duty as citizens of a democratic country to hold our elected representatives to account," Sophie said.

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"We not only need to speak up for ourselves but also now, it seems, for Earth, for, despite the reports of bushfires, melting ice caps and hurricanes, government at all levels seems to lack any sense of urgency.

"SCC declared a climate emergency last year and yet their movement on any policy change or action has been very slow, indeed contradictory considering the granting of planning permission for oil drilling within the county and its continued investment in fossil fuel through its pension fund," she added.

SCC says it has around £84m dedicated to projects relating to environmental schemes to help tackle climate change including a solar farm, but councillors said there still seemed to be a lack of investment and detail.

In September last year SCC granted permission for four new oil wells at the Horse Hill site near Horley, despite widespread concerns about the environmental impacts.

After details of the budget for the year were approved, opposition members voiced their disappointment.

Councillor Jonathan Essex, Green Party, described the budget was a “wasted opportunity”:

"We are in a climate emergency but there are apparently limited funds to deal with that," he said.

"Why are we prepared to spend millions more on roads yet not a penny more on public health?

"There is too little too late in the budget to deal with the climate emergency which has to be a guided principle for everything we do as a local authority," Cllr Essex added.

Defending the council’s position and action on its climate emergency, Councillor Mike Goodman, cabinet member for environment and waste, insisted SCC takes the climate emergency seriously.

He said: "We would be wrong today to be announcing what we will do because we are consulting.

"We want to find out what we need to do in Surrey."

Councillors spent over an hour debating the budget for 2020/21 which will see a rise in council tax of 3.99 per cent including a 2 per cent rise in the adult social care precept.

The net revenue budget has increased to £968.4 million but there are still £38m of savings to be made.