Local residents and politicians lined up to object to plans for exploratory oil drilling in the Surrey Hills near Leith Hill this morning.
They were giving evidence on the third day of a public inquiry into proposals by Europa Oil for an oil well at Bury Hill Woods, near Coldharbour. The site is in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in the Green Belt.
“Inappropriate and unsuitable site”
Hazel Watson, county councillor for Dorking Hills division on Surrey County Council, told the inquiry:
“I am not opposed to onshore oil exploration at appropriate locations for such development. However, I am strongly opposed to this planning application because it is a wholly inappropriate site for oil exploration. In fact in my view it would be difficult to find a more unsuitable and inappropriate site for such a development.
“The site is of national importance having been designated as Green Belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has been given these protections for a reason because it is a special place and its environment and habitats are worthy of, and in need of, protection. These protections are also required so that the many visitors including walkers cyclists and horse riders to the Leith Hill area can enjoy its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity.
“This planning application threatens to spoil the beauty and tranquillity of the area with man-made structures on the site itself as well as the large number of HGV movements on Coldharbour Lane that the development would entail.
“This is not in keeping with a beautiful, tranquil and unspoilt rural environment.”
“Europa in denial about impacts on residents”
Stephen Cooksey, Surrey County Councillor and Mole Valley District Councillor for Dorking South, accused Europa of being in denial about disruption to residents caused by lorry journeys to the site.
“Europa contemplates imposing on these [local] roads over 1,000 heavy goods vehicle journeys, together with 1,088 LGV and associated vehicle movements, which even if their own figures are accepted would lead to an increase of up to 400% in traffic movements in Coldharbour Lane alone.
“However even more disruptive is the size of the vehicles scheduled to use these roads, up to 32 tonnes, on roads which in my view are totally unsuitable to carry them.”
Cllr Cooksey criticised plans for a holding area (described by Europa as a rendez-vous) in Knoll Road, where vehicles would be assembled in groups of three, before leaving in a convoy up Coldharbour Lane.
“The approach to Coldharbour Lane is on a very steep incline and the resulting noise and vibration from successive convoys of three of these vehicles would be massively disruptive to the lives of the local residents.
“I have no doubt that the quality of life of the residents that I represent in Knoll Road and Coldharbour Lane in particular would be severely affected by these proposal.
“However, Europa seem to be in denial and give the impression that all of this activity and disruption will have no effect whatsoever on the lives of local residents. That fact alone I think speaks volumes and undermines any claim that might be made about the effect on residents’ lives being a concern to Europa.
“I think this is a very dangerous and unacceptable application and I believe it is one that should be rejected.”
Threats to local spring water
Henry Hopper, local resident, who relies on spring water, asked what would happen if his supply was damaged.
“I am concerned that what Europa is proposing might disrupt both the direction of flow and the quality of our water. We could therefore be left without water if it came to the surface elsewhere or without drinkable water. I do not understand what, if any, would, or could be put in place and who might do that.
“If planning permission is granted and there were problems how could I ever show that Europa were to blame, if indeed they were.
“If it were then not possible to rely on spring water, a considerable cost of going on to the main would be involved. I think I had a quote for £20,000+ in the 1980s. And there would be considerable disruption in installing any system in the neighbourhood.”
Financial concerns about Europa
Paul Garber, chair of the planning committee of Capel Parish Council, questioned whether Europa Oil and Gas could afford to pay for any repairs of problems at the site.
“The parish council is concerned about the ability of the company to meet its environmental obligations.”
He said the parish council had asked Europa to carry out immediate repairs if its vehicles damaged historic earth banks alongside the sunken lane of Coalharbour Lane but the company had refused. The company had also been asked to install a temporary mobile phone mast to improve communications with residents about lorry movements. But the barrister for the company, Andrew Newcombe, said this would not be possible.
Traffic survey “inadequate”
Keith Sargeant, a local resident, said three of the four traffic surveys used to inform the application, were now out of date. The most recent, carried out in 2014 was for one week in September. He described this as “inadequate and no representative”.
Mr Sargeant was concerned about the impact of site traffic on farm vehicles and cyclists. Any delay to harvest traffic would damage the local economy, he said. The route proposed for heavy goods vehicle included residential streets, roads that were inappropriate for HGVs and junctions that were already hazardous.
The inquiry continues on Tuesday 28th April
Leith Hill Action Group give evidence: report