Council failed to check traffic plan for Europa’s oil drilling site – inquiry inspector

Surrey County Council appears to have approved arrangements to deal with lorries to a proposed exploratory oil site without checking evidence from the company, a public inquiry heard this morning.

The inquiry inspector, Stuart Nixon, said he had reviewed the traffic management scheme by Europa Oil and Gas for its proposed site at Bury Hill Wood near Dorking. But he said he could not find any validation by the council’s highways department.

The scheme was designed to manage more than a thousand journeys by heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) travelling, at times, along narrow or residential roads.

Mr Nixon said: “It became clear to me that the highways authority, in assessing the highways scheme, had not done any validation.

“I could not find validation. That is the starting point of anything. If you are going to agree to something you do not agree until you have validation.

“What the highways authority appears to have done is to have taken the evidence presented by applicant and agreed it without validation”, Mr Nixon said.

The inquiry, now in its second week, has been hearing evidence from Europa and opponents of the scheme. Europa wants to drill an exploratory well and test for oil. It has told the inquiry that the operation would last 18 weeks, followed by restoration. Any effects would be temporary and reversible, it said.

Opponents have argued that the application was inappropriate because the site is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It would, they said, damage the tranquillity of the area. The Leith Hill Action Group has said the drilling site would also harm the Green Belt and traffic visiting the site would have an unacceptable impact on residents.

Yesterday, Mr Nixon visited the site and surrounding area. He said this had revealed that two laybys on the A24, which Europa proposed to use as a holding area for HGVs, were in fact illegal.

The company had found alternative legal HGV parking but it was further from the site than the laybys. As a result, lorries travelling in convoys were more likely to become separated, Mr Nixon said. This would mean that they were likely to spend longer waiting at another proposed holding area in a residential road on the edge of Dorking.

Mr Nixon said the site visit revealed that there were more cyclists in the area than surveys submitted as evidence has shown. There was also more aircraft noise than he had anticipated, given the emphasis by opponents on the tranquillity of the area. Mr Nixon said there had been a change in flight paths for Gatwick Airport and this may or may not continue.

The inquiry continues with evidence from Europa’s planning consultant, Steven Kosky.

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