Drilling opposition in Sussex: legal challenge at Fernhurst and objections at Balcombe


Greenpeace reported today that a group of Sussex residents have formed the first legal blockade to stop a drilling site.

The charity says solicitors acting on behalf of the residents have written to the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, and the exploration company, Celtique Energie, to say they do not give permission for any drilling under their land at Fernhurst.

Celtique Energie submitted a planning application in December to the South Downs National Park Authority to drill vertical and horizontal exploratory bore holes near the village.

The five residents own land that almost surrounds the site, which means, according to Greenpeace, if Celtique Energie found oil or gas, there would not be enough space to run a full-scale fracking well.

The group includes the estate owner, Lord Cowdray, who was contacted last year by Celtique Energie about an alternative well site. In a statement issued at the time he said:  “I do not support fracking at all, and I especially oppose it in a national park, with the potential for ground water and aquifer pollution from the toxic mixture of chemicals they’ll be using. It’s hardly what people expect when they come to an area of outstanding natural beauty – flares, trucks and 40m tall gas rigs.”

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Bocardo SA v Star Energy that property rights apply when someone wants to drill underneath your land. So, under current trespass law, Celtique Energie would have to ask Mr Davey and the courts to overrule the landowners. Exploration companies are concerned that legal proceedings could be expensive and time-consuming and they have been urging ministers to change the law. Last week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed it was reviewing whether the existing legal process was “fit for purpose”.

Marcus Adams, another member of the Fernhurst group, said today: “Trespass law gives residents a chance to stand up to powerful corporations wanting to drill under their homes, but now the government wants to take this protection away from them. Many Tory voters here will be baffled by a government ready to bend the rule of law and chip away at homeowners’ rights to clear a path for the industrialisation of our countryside.”

He told the Telegraph house sales in Fernhurst had fallen through because of the application. “Just talking to local estate agents we believe it’s not unreasonable there would be a 10-20 per cent drop in house prices within a mile or mile and a half of the site. Fernhurst is a pretty affluent village; that equates to £500m of equity that’s vanished,” he said.

The public consultation by the South Downs National Park Authority resulted in more than 2,400 objections and is said to have caused the authority’s website to crash. A decision on the planning application is expected next month.

  • At Balcombe, where Cuadrilla, has applied for planning permission to West Sussex County Council to flow test its well, the public consultation is underway. More than 50 objections were logged on the County Council website in the first week. The consultation period at Balcombe runs until March 13th.

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