A new strategy in West Sussex seeks to prevent almost all oil and gas development in the South Downs National Park and the county’s two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The document, out for consultation today, proposes to ban hydraulic fracturing in these protected areas, in line with government policy.
And it says conventional oil and gas developments will be allowed in them only in exceptional circumstances and when it is in the public interest.
The draft Joint Minerals Plan, being developed with the South Downs National Park Authority, recognises the national commitment to maintain and enhance energy security in the UK.
But it states:
“It is important that the impacts of oil and gas developments are controlled to protect the environment and local communities”.
The finished strategy will replace the 2003 Minerals Plan and set minerals planning policy in West Sussex until 2033. It will play a key part in deciding planning applications for oil and gas. The National Planning Policy Framework says a proposed development that conflicts with a local plan should be refused unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
Oil exploration in West Sussex made national news in the summer of 2013 when large numbers of people protested outside Cuadrilla’s site in Balcombe, in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Since then, the South Downs National Park planning committee refused permission to Celtique Energie to explore for oil in the park at Fernhurst. West Sussex County Council’s planning committee also refused permission to the company to drill near the park boundary between the villages of Kirdford and Wisborough Green. UK Oil & Gas was granted permission for oil production at Markwells Wood, in the National Park, until September 2016.
West Sussex currently has three conventional oil producing sites at Singleton, Lidsey and Storrington and four exploration sites at Markwells Wood, Forestside (in the South Downs National Park), Balcombe and Broadford bridge.
Detail on oil and gas policies
Developments involving fracking
Under the new Minerals Plan, proposals for exploration and appraisal involving fracking will be allowed, provided:
- Surface development is outside the national park, the High Weald and Chichester Harbour AONBs, water Source Protection Zones 1 (SPZ), and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
- The selected site is the “least sensitive deliverable location from which the reservoir can be accessed” and should take into account on and off site activities, including lorry transport.
- Adverse impacts, including noise, dusty, visual intrusion, transport and lighting can be minimised and/or mitigated to an acceptable level
- Restoration and aftercare is to a high-quality standard
Production sites must meet these conditions and there must also be no significant adverse impacts from the transport of oil and/or gas from the site.
Proposals will be allowed under or near the boundary of the national park, AONBs, SPZ1s and SSSIs if they “demonstrate that special care will be taken to avoid harming the setting and/or special qualities and/or value of these designated areas”. The draft says this policy seeks to ensure that development close to, or underneath, ‘protected areas’ does not cause harm to the special qualities or value of the area, the plan says.
The policies apply to physical extensions to a site or extensions of operations within an existing site boundary.
Conventional oil and gas
Under the new Minerals Plan, proposals that don’t involve hydraulic fracturing must meet most of the same conditions as unconventional developments. The only differences are:
- Conventional oil and gas developments will not be excluded from the surface of SPZ1s or SSSIs.
- Proposals will be allowed if they demonstrate there are exceptional circumstances and they are in the public interest.
Other objectives and policies
The Minerals Plan sets 14 objectives. These include:
“To protect the environment and local communities in West Sussex from unacceptable impacts of any proposal for oil and gas development, whilst recognising the national commitment to maintain and enhance energy security in the UK”.
Other objectives seek to: protect the health and amenity of residents, business and visitors; conserve and enhance the landscape and character of the county; and minimise carbon emissions and to adapt to, and to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of, climate change.
There are also 10 policies for mineral activities and 15 policies which the plans says are designed to protect the environment and communities
Under policy M18, for example, minerals proposals must not have an unacceptable impact on health or amenity because of lighting, noise, dust, odours, vibrations and other emissions (including from traffic).
Policy M20 requires transport links to be adequate to serve the development or could be improved without an unacceptable impact on amenity, character or the environment.
Under M22, the cumulative effect of a proposals must not unreasonably disturb the environment, residents, businesses or visitors. Policy M23 requires minerals developments to be appropriate scale, form and layout. Policy M25 requires operators, where necessary, to establish a site liaison group.
A nine-week consultation on the plan opened today and runs until 5pm on Friday 17 June. Comments can be submitted using the links on this page of the West Sussex County Council website.
The council said:
“Following the consultation on the draft Plan, we will consider your comments and decide whether any changes are needed.
“Your comments will help guide and inform the preparation of the version of the Plan that we submit to Government for consideration of its soundness and legality”.
After the consultation, the plan will be submitted to government and reviewed at a public examination by a planning inspector.
Updated 15/4/15 with addition of map and minor edits to text