Campaigners celebrate rejection of South Downs drilling application

No exceptional circumstances to justify drilling in the National Park, committee says. Companies being prevented from drilling in the SE, says Celtique Energie

Opponents of drilling in the South Downs National Park celebrated this morning after the rejection of Celtique Energie’s application for an exploratory oil well near the village of Fernhurst.

The National Park’s planning committee followed the advice of planning officers and voted unanimously against the application.

Members agreed that, while the UK should produce its own oil and gas, the National Parks should be drilled last.

In the reasons for refusal, the committee said:

  • Celtique Energie had failed to demonstrate the national need for indigenous oil and gas could not be met outside the South Downs National Park.
  • It failed to show that residents and visitors would not be harmed by noise from the development
  • Noise and disturbance would damage the tranquillity of the area

Relief for campaigners

After the meeting, John Buchanan, of Frack Free Fernhurst, said: “I am very relieved and very pleased. It is good news. It has been nearly 18 months since this unwelcome application came into our lives. I think it was the right decision. It was well made on very sound advice from the officers.” He added: “At last I will be able to sleep at night.”

Margaret Paren, the chair of the South Downs National Park Authority said: “National Parks are our most exceptional landscapes. They are places that should be conserved.” She said Celtique Energie had failed to provide the evidence, required by national planning rules, that there were exceptional circumstances to justify the development.

Campaigners celebrate after rejection of Celtique Energie's drilling application

Campaigners celebrate after rejection of Celtique Energie’s drilling application

Brenda Pollock, south east campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said “We are absolutely delighted, as are the local residents. It was the right decision and a victory for the anti-fracking movement.” She said planning legislation had protected the National Park but she warned: “It will not be the case for other places, outside this special area, that are equally special to their residents.”

Actor James Bolam, who lives in Wisborough Green where another Celtique Energie drilling application was refused in July, also welcomed the decision. But he warned that many other communities could face drilling applications. This is going to happen to the whole country. People do not know what will happen if fracking comes to the UK. They do not understand.”

Celtique Energie “disappointed”

In a statement, Celtique Energie said it was disappointed by the decision and was considering whether to appeal. It said: “We appear to be arriving at a scenario whereby, in the face of Government policy, operators are being deliberately prevented from exploring in the south-east of England”.

The company said the decision was based on “a subjective and unjustified interpretation of planning guidance. We believe this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal”.  Full CE statement

Celtique Energie had applied for temporary permission to drill a conventional well and test for hydrocarbons at Nine Acre Copse off Vann Road. Jenny Massingham, a consultant for Celtique Energie, told the meeting, “Secure supply of oil is needed to maintain the way of life in the South Downs and its economy”.

Ian Bennett, the company’s acoustic specialist, said noise from the development would be slight and was “not a valid reason for refusal” of the application. Robin Butcher, of Terra Firma, landscape consultants for Celtique Energie, said the “site cannot be regarded as tranquil” and the development would not cause irreversible harm.

5,500+ formal objections

The application did not ask for permission to frack, but it attracted unprecedented opposition. There were formal objections from 5,517 people and only 11 formal comments in support.

There were also objections from five local parish councils, Chichester District Council, MP Caroline Lucas, MEP Keith Taylor, the South Downs National Park’s landscape architect and its Dark Skies specialist, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, National Trust, South Downs Society, Sussex Wildlife and the Woodland Trust.

The committee heard from Cllr Sandy Moore, of Lynchmere Parish Council, who said “National Parks are no place for experiments”. The application was “unsafe, unsustainable and potentially irreversible”, she said.

Cllr Geoff Walls, of Fernhurst Parish Council, said the application, which had generated a greater level of public debate than anything for a decade, would have an adverse effect on local residents.

Michael de Courcy, a transport consultant for Frack Free Fernhurst, said vehicle access to the site relied on the use of land owned by the Cowdray Estate. The estate had said it would not permit vehicles to cross the land.

What the committee members said on the key issues

Planning rules for National Parks

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