Plans by Europa Oil & Gas to explore for oil in woodland near the Surrey beauty spot of Leith Hill inched forward today but it will still be some time before drilling could start.
Surrey County Council confirmed that it still has to approve proposals from the company to comply with conditions on the original planning permission for an exploratory well at Bury Hill Wood, near Dorking.
There is no date yet to decide on an extra planning application that extends the site by 25% to allow for temporary buildings and more security fencing.
Europa has still not applied for an environmental permit. And a recommendation from the council today on site lighting could delay drilling further.
This morning Surrey County Council’s planning committee voted by six to 1, with two abstentions, to approve a lighting management plan for the site.
This is one of more than 20 conditions attached to planning permission granted by a planning inspector at a public inquiry last year.
The site is the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the metropolitan greenbelt. Last weekend, hundreds of people protested about the plans. Details
In August, Europa’s chief executive, Hugh MacKay, said he hoped the conditions would be dealt with by the end of this year.
But the planning committee heard today that arrangements for complying with five more conditions still had to be approved. They include a plan for dealing with the controversial issue of the routing large lorries to the site along steep, narrow lanes.
Committee chairman, Tim Hall said:
“There are still five conditions outstanding, one of which is a highway condition, which we do not at this moment have in any sensible format.
“I would expect that this [application] will return to see us at least once if not twice in the New Year.”
Second application and environmental permit
The Local Government Secretary has supported Surrey County Council’s view that the additional application to extend the site and add extra fencing and buildings does not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA). But Leith Hill Action Group has argued that an EIA is needed to comply with regulations.
Even if the EIA issue is not challenged, the earliest date that this application could be decided is 11 January or 22 February 2017.
Europa confirmed to DrillOrDrop today that it had not yet applied to the Environment Agency for a mining waste permit, which would be needed before drilling could start.
Asked when it proposed to submit its application, a spokesperson said “Soon”.
The Environment Agency estimates it takes at least 13 weeks to deal with a permit application.
Another delay could result from today’s approval of lighting at the site.
Councillors heard that Surrey Wildlife Trust and Leith Hill Action Group were concerned that the lighting plan proposed by Europa could affect foraging bats.
The committee agreed to add an informative – a reminder to an applicant to voluntarily follow best practice – recommending drilling during bat hibernation periods, usually between November and February.
It also added an informative asking the company to avoid using LED bulbs in site lighting to reduce the impact on bats.
The lighting proposed is brighter than guidance from the Institute of Lighting Professionals recommends for “intrinsically dark areas”, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But council officers recommended approval of the proposal because, they said, the lighting would be used for only six weeks, during drilling.
Asked about enforcing the conditions, the Planning and development control team manager, Alan Stones, told the committee:
“The site will be monitored by our enforcement officers. It is a particular scheme of short duration. That will be watched closely. Any wilful breach leaves the operator liable to enforcement action.”
Committee chair, Tim Hall added:
“I am reasonably optimistic that the applicant – because of the sheer visibility – will be very careful about what they do and how.
“We’ve got the chairman of Mole Valley District Council who lives at Coldharbour.
“This rig is visible to a significant proportion of the village so it’s not going to be hidden away.”