Go-ahead recommended for gas production in Surrey protected landscape against planning policy

Albury well site SCC

Albury Park wellsite. Picture: Surrey County Council

Councillors are being recommended to approve plans to produce gas at a site in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite predicted harm to the landscape and in breach of several planning policies.

The application has been made by IGas for its Albury Park gas site in the Green Belt near Guildford. The company wants to produce gas, compress it and remove it by tanker for 15 years.

If approved this would be the second hydrocarbon consent in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in less than a year. In August 2015, a planning inspector approved plans by Europa to drill for oil at Bury Hill Wood (also called the Holmwood prospect) near Dorking. Details

The IGas application will be discussed by Surrey County Council’s planning committee on Wednesday 13 July. Agenda

A report by planning officers released today recommends approval of the scheme. But the report acknowledged the site was in a “particularly attractive part of the AONB” and the proposal would harm landscape character, be visually intrusive and infringe the prevailing tranquillity.

It also argued that the production of compressed natural gas was an industrial process which was “inappropriate development” in the Green Belt.

But in explaining their recommendation, the planners said:

  • There was a need for the development under national energy policy
  • Minerals were essential and exploiting them was in the national interest
  • IGas had produced evidence that piping the gas outside the AONB would be too expensive

The site

The first planning application for gas exploration at Albury was granted in July 1987.

The site is in:

  • The Albury Park Estate Listed Park
  • The Metropolitan Green Belt
  • Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • An Area of Great Landscape Value
  • A Site of Nature Conservation Importance
  • Ancient woodland

An area of high archaeological potential is 200m away. A public footpath is 190m away and the nearest properties are 220m-230m away.

The scheme

Site preparation IGas proposes to spend three to four months preparing the site, including widening the access track to create car parking. This phase will require 15 vehicle movements in and 15 out each day. Of these, five in and five out would be heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). Working hours would be 8am-6pm Monday to Friday and 8am-1pm on Saturdays.

Installation of plant and equipment The company wants to use a 31m truck-mounted rig to upgrade an existing well and bring it into production. This would take about four weeks and would not involve drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the company said. A flare would burn off gas, running for up to seven days. The company would also install facilities to compress the gas to 1% of its volume.

Operational period According to IGas, the well is forecast to produce 20 tonnes of compressed natural gas per day. This would be loaded every day onto two tankers (taking up to 10 hours) and transported to the Portsdown Hill facility in Hampshire. IGas said this was a more cost-efficient and sustainable option than converting the gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG), which had been approved previously at Albury. Some gas from the well would be used to generate electricity for the site. Work during the operational phase would be 24-hours a day, seven days a week.


Surrey County Council held three rounds of public consultation on the scheme.

According to the planners’ report, there were 37 letters about the application, of which one supported it. The others raised concerns about issues including air quality, health impacts of flaring and from generator, increase in lorry movements, safety implications of this, implications for climate change, noise, light pollution and amenity use.

The planners said there were no objections from Guildford Borough Council, Albury Parish Council or technical consultees.

The Surrey Hills AONB Office said the proposal conflicted with national planning policy, would cause “significant harm to the AONB” and threatened the tranquillity of the area.

Planning policy

Planning applications have to be decided against national and local planning policy. The officers’ report suggests the IGas proposals conflict with policies in the:

  • National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
  • Surrey Minerals Plan
  • Guildford Local Plan
  • Metropolitan Green Belt

The planners defined the proposal as a “major development”. Under the NPPF paragraph 116, planning permission should be refused for major developments in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.

They accepted the development would have:

“some detrimental effect on the landscape and would not enhance the natural beauty of the AONB during either the construction or operational period.”

They said the proposal amounted to “significant harm” to the Green Belt by encroaching on openness. It also breached policies designed to protect the AONB in the Surrey Minerals Plan and Guildford Local Plan, the planners said.

The Surrey Minerals Plan policies MC2 and MC14 state that minerals developments in the AONB can be approved only if they have been demonstrated to be in the public interest, there is a need for them and there will be no significant adverse impacts on the appearance, quality and character of the landscape.

Policies RE5 and RE6 in the Guildford Local Plan seek to conserve the visual quality or distinctive character of the AONB. Policy RE2 states that new building would be inappropriate unless it prevents sprawl, reserves character or assists urban regeneration.

The scheme would, the planners say, also harm ancient woodland by creating car parking on the access track. The NPPF says loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, such as ancient woodland has to be outweighed by benefits.

Reasons for recommended approval

In the scheme’s defence, the planners argued there were exceptional and special circumstances that justified approval. These included:

  • National need, promoted by energy policy, to maximise the economic production of oil and gas
  • Transporting gas to a liquefied natural gas plan outside the AONB of Green Belt is not commercially-viable, according to IGas
  • Alternative options for extracting the gas are also not viable
  • The proposal is temporary
  • The site is remote, well-screened and equipment would be contained within a compound
  • The use of the workover rig would be short-term
  • Other structures would be only up to 3m high
  • Noise and the impact on recreational activities should not be significantly adverse
  • The proposal would not require more land
  • Previous proposals for a liquefied natural gas plant, which were approved, would have had more impact
  • Vehicle movements would remain low
  • Minerals could be worked only where they were found

The planners said the loss of ancient woodland was unavoidable and “clearly overcome by the social and economic benefits of husbanding the indigenous natural resource”. They added:

“There is no reason to believe that high environmental standards cannot be maintained during the period proposed.”


Planners have recommended 44 conditions on the permission. These include operating hours, prevention of HGV movements during school drop-off and collection times, night-time noise limits, a duration of no more than 15 years from the date of implanting the permission and measures to control dust, and surface contamination.


Planning committee agenda

Planners’ report to the committee

Planning application

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

6 replies »

  1. It seems that planning decisions are more and more being made on the basis of complying with national government planning policy – ie “There was a need for the development under national energy policy” and “Minerals were essential and exploiting them was in the national interest” and no weight at all is given to current planning policy, the wishes of local people and the environment. The same was true in Ryedale when fracking at Kirby Misperton was approved, despite overwhelming opposition by local councils and the public, on the basis that this was ‘in the national interest’. This may have passed some people by as it’s not fracking, but it still seems to imply that the only material consideration that planners are listening to these days are the central government diktats of ‘maximising fossil fuel production’. And this one in an AONB!.
    If it is so clearly against planning policy, as this article seems to say it is, how can this be challenged?

  2. Indeed I suspect the planning authorities are beginning to prioritise the national interest. 85% of us use gas to heat our homes but we are increasingly becoming reliant on imported gas to meet our need. Pipeline supplies from the Netherlands are declining I understand.. Fortunately there is an ample supply of LNG on the world market and the USA, on the back of the shale revolution, is beginning to export more. Recently there have been concerns about the Rough gas storage facility which provides back-up gas supply to the UK at times of high demand. This will make us potentially more reliant on the next LNG container docking at Milford Haven. LNG of course has a higher carbon footprint than onshore gas. Basically it makes me uncomfortable to think that our energy security depends on imported gas and I’d like to see more emphasis on home production.

  3. The get out clause is National Energy Policy, that means this excuse can be used for any Planning Committee and effectively overturns any protest. You can have human rights, provided it does not contravene National Interests, you can have freedom of information, provided it does not contravene National Interests. You can live, provided it does not contravene National Interests. This is catch 22 on steroids, protest and act legally and within the law, they walk right over you, don’t protest and they walk right over you. Stand up for your civil rights and you are a non-violent extremist, dont stand up for your civil rights and they take them away and walk right over you.

    Time to wake up folks, it is sad to say, tragic even, that we no longer live in a representative democracy. These discussion forums are great and i am grateful for the information that has enabled me to understand much of what is transpiring in the fracking field. Ultimately it will all be pointless unless we work out some further strategy to have our voice heard and our rights protected. Trusting the government to protect us is no longer an option. Many regret, even hated leaving the EU, and we have not done it yet, but at least we can change the representatives in government in power and make them more accountable, that isn’t possible in the EU. Transparency and accountability is the key, we need to set up watch dogs to oversee the actions of government and bring them to task on each and every issue, not just fracking. Then maybe we can reverse the current trend work back towards being a democracy again.

  4. Sorry just another rant, this time about double standards, Scottish Power is planning to double the size of its hydro-electric power plant that stores energy as well as generating power.The Cruachan plant near Oban in Scotland pumps water 400m uphill at night when energy prices from wind farms are cheap and releases it when needed. A brilliant idea of course. Obviously doubling the size will be a massive operation involving further industrialisation in areas of outstanding natural beauty and presumably much heavy traffic. Any objections from the green lobby, not a peep, why? Presumably because the environmental benefits are seen as outweighing the environmental costs. I guess that’s the way I see the shale gas contribution to energy security.

  5. How about starting by getting Mr Cameron to ratify the COP21 Cilmate Change agreement signed at the end of 2015 in Paris by more than 200 countries BEFORE he takes a back seat? I believe that 38degrees have such a petition circulating. Indeed it was Mr Cameron’s Government that quickly passed a law giving the Minister of Energy the final say in any fracking planning request. This was done last year. There is no democracy witth Tories and they have no interest in environmental matters, just fossil fuel and money making at max profit and with no consideration to locals people’s views.. Most EU countries do not want fracking in their countries + the EU has nothing to do with it. It’s just the usual UK awful habit of copying everything the US does.
    We did have a way of electing EU officials and that was via the European Parliament elections. Shame that most people couldn’t be bothered to vote which could be the reason why mostly the right wing neoliberalist parties won, hence we have a Right wing Parliament who approved r wing Commissioners.
    Yes, Philip I do agree that we all need to do something urgently as you say, they are behaving like Oligarchs.

  6. Posted on behalf of Roy Hogben

    Your very alarmist article about Fracking on Albury Heath should really have been given a little more constructive investigation.
    Whilst we appreciate your interest in Albury and the rest of the AONB, you really should do a little more investigation before sounding alarm bells!
    Albury Parish Council collaborate quite closely with IGas and we are well aware of this application. To allay your fears, there has been gas extraction up on Albury Heath since 1987!! It was shut off when they drilled for a second gas storage testing well a few years ago, which was not economical and was shut off. Now they have to clear the borehole of the old well before they start taking the gas out again. Last year they got permission to produce LNG and this present Planning Application is a fairly un-dramatic change to CNG, which involves less equipment on the site. Rather than having large storage tanks and refrigeration units to liquefy the gas they are now compressing it directly into the lorries.
    Albury had no objection as nothing is really changing to the site. We looked at the heritage report last Monday, very interesting to read but there is nothing being affected by works at the site which isn’t changing anyway.

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