11th April 2014
Oil and gas exploration should be banned in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) unless it is in the national interest and only when the circumstances are exceptional. That’s the view of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty* (NAAONB), in response to the government’s consultation on the next round of onshore oil and gas licences.
The NAAONB criticised the consultation report, issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, for having a “weak understanding of landscape as a concept”. The document, it says, demonstrates a significant lack of understanding of what an AONB is and its status”. NAAONB says: “This is shocking for a document from a government department.” It also rejects the report’s suggestion that impacts of oil and gas exploration will the “localised and largely resolvable at the local level”.
The organisation argues that legislation already requires authorities to take account of conserving and enhancing natural beauty in AONBs. “The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that planning permission should be refused for major development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.”
NAAONB says: “If extending exploratory licensing is deemed to be in the national interest, and there are no alternative sites outside AONBs then full Environmental Impact Assessments should be undertaken.”
The organisation says these should identify comprehensive mitigation steps in the design and implementation of any proposed development. Any remaining impacts should be adequately compensated. “It is critical that all the environmental impacts of the exploratory drilling are considered up front.”
Cuadrilla is currently applying to test drill its exploratory oil well at Balcombe. The site is in the High Weald AONB but West Sussex County Council decided in January that the application did not need an Environmental Impact Assessment. About a third of the 925 people who have objected to the application mentioned the lack of an EIA.
*The NAAONB represents all but one of the 38 AONB partnerships and Conservation Boards in England and Wales.