14th May 2014
The chair of Balcombe Parish Council, Alison Stevenson, said the village was split by Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling operation and the protests that accompanied it. But she felt Balcombe could heal in the future.
At a round-table discussion during the Shale Gas World conference this morning, she said: “The village is divided and it remains a village divided.”
In February, just under 60 per cent of the village took part in a poll about oil exploration and production in the parish. Almost 60% of the participants voted to reject Cuadrilla’s planning application to test the flow of the oil well, which did not involve hydraulic fracturing.
Just over 61% voted against approving any future application that might involve hydraulic fracturing and just over 51% voted against approval of any hydrocarbon planning applications in the parish.
Mrs Stevenson said: “I thought Balcombe was unbreakable and I was devastated by what happened”, she said.
When asked whether Balcombe could be healed, she said “Yes but it will be slow and there are gashes that will be there for a long time.”
Balcombe Parish Council objected to Cuadrilla’s application, along with nearly 900 members of the public. But last month, the application was approved by West Sussex County Council.
Mrs Stevenson said she had to remain neutral on Cuadrilla’s operation. “My job is to understand and listen and listen again and take forward what I am sure is the right course.”
Delegates at Shale Gas World, who included councillors, regulators and operators, asked her what she had done to gain the trust of residents. Mrs Stevenson said: “Honesty. If you do not know the answer say so. The population of Balcombe is extremely bright. Everyone is able to understand. Tell the truth, even if it is bad news.
She said she was determined to keep the dialogue going with Cuadrilla, as well as the county council and Environment Agency.
She confirmed there had been no engagement by Cuadrilla with the parish council or the village on the latest planning application. The relationship with the county council had improved. “We have been treated a bit like royalty since the protests”, she said.