The South Downs National Park Authority has halted consideration of Celtique Energie’s planning application for exploratory drilling at Fernhurst because key information is missing. The application will need to go through a new consultation and is unlikely to be decided until the summer.
The authority’s chief executive, Trevor Beattie, said Celtique Energie had omitted “significant details” from its environmental statement for the site at Nine Acre Copse. He said the National Park would be submitting a request for further information under Regulation 22 of The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. This would, he said, put the Fernhurst application on hold.
Mr Beattie said: “When we have received this additional information from the applicants the National Park Authority will consult and advertise it in line with the requirements of the regulations. Only once we have re-consulted and the new information has been reviewed will the Authority be in a position to determine the application. It is therefore unlikely that the planning committee will hear the application until summer 2014.”
The authority was unable to say at this stage which areas required more information. The formal request will be submitted in early March. However, authority said in a statement that it had reviewed the environmental statement and was commissioning independent specialist advice on the applicant’s submission on:
- Hydrogeology and geology
- Engineering aspects associated with borehole integrity, well drilling, well casing and testing.
The Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence that includes Fernhurst was sold by the government before the South Downs National Park was established. Mr Beattie said the Authority was not opposed to development in the National Park. But, he said, major development had to be in the public interest and the applicant had to demonstrate there were exceptional circumstances.
“We are totally committed to ensuring that all development in the National Park respects the landscape, reflects the highest standards of design and sustainability and, above all, is only undertaken on the basis of extensive, top-quality evidence and research. Our precious landscape deserves no less. That is why we have a National Park.”
He said the assessments required for oil and gas exploration at Fernhurst, as with any other major application, were rigorous. “For major development we always ask the question ‘why does it have to be in the National Park’?”
- The news from Fernhurst coincides with a full-page interview in The Times with Celtique Energie’s chief executive, Geoff Davies. Under the headline “Selfish and unpatriotic”: blunt northerner takes on rich Nimbies of the South Downs, Mr Davies contrasts the reaction to shale gas exploration in Sussex and Lancashire. Mr Davies said: “They [his brothers, sisters and friends in Lancashire] think it’s a fantastic windfall for the country and say ‘We’ll put up with it’. It depends whether you’re patriotic or selfish, ultimately.”