West Sussex County Council has apologised to Balcombe residents for mistakes made during the summer when Cuadrilla drilled an exploration oil well on the edge of the village.
Louise Goldsmith, the county council leader, told a public meeting of villagers on December 5th that the summer’s drilling had been a unique experience for the council. But she conceded: “We have made some errors. I am sorry about that. I cannot take them back.”
Ms Goldsmith was responding to criticism of the council’s efforts to communicate with the village and to enforce the conditions of Cuadrilla’s planning permission. One resident was applauded by the audience when he said: “My faith in your ability to look after myself as a citizen of this village and this county is dropping very, very fast…How are you going to restore my faith?”
Ms Goldsmith said “We are here today to build that faith and yes, it may be at rock bottom, but our commitment to you is that we will try.”
The meeting also received an apology from Samantha Mulberry, the council’s head of communications. She said: “We do think that, initially, we were possibly slightly slower than we should have been to communicate with you and I am sorry for that.” Ms Mulberry promised to do better in future.
But one villager from Kirdford, where Celtique Energie is applying for permission to search for hydrocarbons, said the council had not learned the lessons of the past. “I have had no correspondence whatsoever and I live next door to it [the proposed drilling site]. Nothing. So it’s not true that you have learned and you are sorry about it because you are doing the same to us.”
The meeting, in St Mary’s Church, Balcombe, heard that Cuadrilla had submitted a revised planning application to West Sussex County Council on December 5th. The application has not yet been made public but is thought to cover flow testing, an enclosed test flare, security fencing and site restoration. The company submitted an application in late September but this was not registered because the council regarded it as inadequate and asked for further information.