“I am not confident traffic management would work” – Inspector at Surrey Hills oil drilling inquiry

The inspector at a public inquiry into plans to drill for oil in the Surrey Hills said this afternoon he was not confident the management of traffic to the site would work.

Europa Oil and Gas proposes to route heavy goods vehicles up a narrow sunken lane to an exploratory well at Bury Hill Wood, near Leith Hill.

It is appealing against a refusal of planning permission by Surrey County Council.

The inquiry heard evidence that Europa planned to park convoys of delivery lorries on laybys on the A24. The HGVs would then drive in groups of three to a holding area in Knoll Road, a residential street in Dorking. From there, they would be routed along Coldharbour Lane, through two sets of stop/go boards, to the proposed drilling site.

The inspector, Stuart Nixon, said: “Your whole process relies on management down to the minute. But I am not sure that the information before the inquiry gives me confidence that you are able to achieve that.”

Mr Nixon also questioned whether Europa’s proposals for delivering hardcore for the site foundations were realistic.

The company’s traffic consultant, Richard Elliot, said the traffic management plan allowed the company to make four deliveries a day between the hours of 9.30am and 3pm.

But Mr Nixon suggested there might not be enough time to achieve this. “It does not work”, he said. The traffic management plan should ensure “you can carry out work on site with the minimum impact on residents. At the moment you do not know”, he added.

Mr Nixon also said he needed more information on three transport issues:

  • The location of the laybys on the A24. “That seems to be flimsy”, he said. “We have not identified these”.
  • Road safety risks. Local residents gave evidence about the accident risks of more heavy goods vehicles in Knoll Road and Coalharbour Lane. Mr Nixon said a road safety audit was needed to identify the risks and what measures could be taken to minimise them.
  • The impact of increased numbers of cyclists on Coldharbour Lane and other local roads. Europa had relied on a survey carried out in 2009 but local residents gave evidence that since the 2012 Olympics the Surrey Hills had attracted many more cyclists.

Andrew Newcombe, the barrister for Europa, said Surrey County Council’s highway department had agreed to the traffic management plan.

But Mr Nixon replied: “The highways authority does the job to the best of its ability. It does not necessarily know everything. An agreement with the highways authority is not a good reason for taking that as read.

“I am being told that the county council and your highway witnesses are not up to date with the cycling usage on Coldharbour Lane.”

Mr Newcombe suggested the inspector formally request the missing information and adjourn the inquiry. But Mr Nixon said the issues could be dealt with by conditions, should he decide to grant planning permission.

  • Mr Elliot told this afternoon’s session the drilling site would generate an estimated 1,126 HGV journeys and about the same number of other vehicle journeys. The inquiry also heard that a width restriction on Coldharbour Lane would not prevent HGVs delivering to the proposed site.

The inquiry resumes with the final witness on Friday.

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