It would take 25 years to restore an exploratory oil site in the Surrey Hills after it was abandoned, a public inquiry heard this afternoon.
Landscape architect, Elizabeth Brown, said plans by Europa Oil and Gas to drill near Leith Hill in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would have a “significant adverse effect on the landscape”.
The drilling rig would be a prominent feature on the ridge line, she said, rising 15-20m above the tree tops. The site would be “incompatible with local land use and local landscape character”.
Mrs Brown was giving evidence on the first day of the inquiry into plans for an exploratory borehole at Bury Hill Wood. This morning it heard from three local residents who oppose the scheme. Our report.
This is the second public inquiry into Europa’s planning application. The first upheld the decision by Surrey County Council to refuse but this was overturned by the High Court.
Mrs Brown, who was giving evidence on behalf of the county council, said the landscape of the area was highly sensitive.
Sunken lanes, like parts of Coldharbour Lane, which would be used by heavy goods vehicles delivering to the site, were important cultural features of the landscape. Once they were changed it would be permanent she said. The site would also affect a view that was painted by the impressionist Pissarro
“You could not wholly reverse the impacts of the development”, she said. “It would take 25 years to replicate the appearance of that area”.
Mrs Brown said the drill site would diminish the character of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and reduce the tranquillity of area, an important feature of the AONB.
Asked to define tranquillity, she said it was about being able to hear natural sounds, such as insects, birds or running water. Tranquillity was reduced by hearing noise from vehicles or machinery.
But she added that it was not just about noise. Absence of light was very important and being able to see the stars. She said a glow from the site would be visible at night.
Andrew Newcombe, for Europa Oil and Gas, put it to Mrs Brown that Surrey County Council’s landscape officer had not objected to the original planning application. Mrs Brown said the officer’s assessment had been based on guidance that was now out of date.
The inquiry continues tomorrow and is expected to end on 1st May