22nd July 2014
Villagers from Wisborough and Green and Kirdford cheered as West Sussex County Council’s planning committee voted unanimously to reject plans by Celtique Energie to drill for oil near their homes.
The company had asked councillors to defer a decision on the application after it submitted extra information last Friday. But the committee decided the company had had enough time to make its case and voted against the application.
Wisborough Green resident the actor James Bolan described the decision as “Brilliant. Absolutely marvellous.”
His wife, actor Sue Jameson, who spoke against the application at the meeting said: “We are very very pleased. I am just glad that these councillors realised that the everyday needs of people is incredibly important. The disturbance that this application would have caused in the village is unacceptable because it is very far reaching.”
The meeting heard that Celtique Energie wanted to drill exploratory oil wells, about 500m away from the nearest home. The plans included a vertical well over 2,600 m deep and a horizontal well 1,800 m deep.
Opponents described how lorries to the site would have to drive round the green in Wisborough Green, which is used by children going to school and for many village activities. Another part of the proposed lorry route, Kirdford Road, was used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. There were concerns about the effect that the development would have on village events, tourism and outdoor activity.
Andrew Jackson, of Wisborough Green Parish Council, described his village, with its conservation area, as “quintessentially English”. We are a lucky village to have this asset”, he said.
Villagers and some councillors were worried about the impact of a drill site on wildlife. Sue Jameson said: “We want to leave a legacy of peace and tranquillity: not denigrate our precious Sussex countryside.” Cllr Lionel Parsons said: “It is very difficult to accept that all the activities on that site would not have an impact on the environment and wildlife.”
There were also questions about whether the company had proved that the chosen site was the best possible option. The county councillor for both villagers, Janet Duncton, said: “I would not want to put my name to ruining these beautiful villages. This is the wrong place. There is nothing more to say about it.”
Joseph Ransley, of Kirdford Parish Council, said: “The oil industry is its own worst enemy by seeking to pursue development in wholly inappropriate locations”.
David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics and Glasgow University, said there was not enough geological data to assess the safety of the application. He said geological faulting in the Weald Basin risked contamination of groundwater by methane and drilling chemicals. He described the technical report that accompanied the application as “incomplete, incompetent and disingenuous”.
But the key concern of the committee was the impact of site traffic on local roads. Celtique Energie claimed there would be a 13 per cent increase in heavy goods vehicles. But a council study showed that the increase would be 64 per cent. The difference in figures was because the company had inflated the baseline figure for current traffic, principal planner, Jane Moseley told the meeting.
The county highways department had formally objected to the application on the grounds of road capacity and safety. It was concerned that lorries could not safely enter or leave the site or pass each other on local roads. The company had failed to assess accurately the increase in lorry movements, it said.
Mr Jackson, of Wisborough Green Parish Council, told committee members: “Other applications [for oil or gas drilling] had acceptable access. This application does not. Your decision is hugely important in setting a precedent. We are asking you take the professional advice of your officers and refuse.”
Gareth Wilson, a planning consultant for Celtique Energie, said the company had responded in full to the concerns of the highways department in the additional information supplied to the council. He said there were “no highways grounds” for rejecting the application.
But Miss Mosely said the new information did not change the planners’ recommendation to refuse the proposals. The committee chair, Heidi Brunsdon, added an extra reason for rejection: that the company had not demonstrated the site was the best available in its area of search.