Plans agreed for checking road damage at Leith Hill oil site


Europa’s scheme to drill for oil near a Surrey beauty spot took a small step forward yesterday with approval of another planning condition.

County councillors voted yesterday in favour of proposals for repairing any damage to roads caused by traffic serving the company’s exploration site near Leith Hill.

The application for drilling at Bury Hill Wood was approved in August 2015 after a long planning dispute which included two public inquiries and two court cases. The planning inspector who granted permission imposed 21 conditions, including a method statement on how the company would make safe any road damage.

Opponents of the scheme asked the council to delay a decision on the method statement until a traffic management plan for the site, another condition of the permission, had been submitted. They also called for tree preservation orders along the lorry route to the site.

But council officers said they were satisfied that Europa’s method statement met the requirements of the planning condition. The council’s planning committee voted by eight to two in favour.

Controversial plan

Europa’s proposals are controversial because the site is in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt.

The proposed route for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) route is along an unclassified road, which in places is steep, winding and narrow. It also includes a stretch of pre-Roman sunken lane with high tree-lined banks. In places, the route is 3.8m wide.

Vicki Elcoate, a resident opposed to the scheme, presented the results of an independent tree survey to the committee. She said opponents would pursue their call for tree preservation orders along the route on Coldharbour Lane.

“We have identified 20 historic trees on the banks that are at real risk of being damaged by HGV movements and the council should take this more responsibility. We are seeking clarification about which authority is responsible.”

Julian Everett, another opponent, said the method statement depended on the traffic management plan, which had not yet been submitted to the council.

He said recent work on the nearby Brockham oil site had seen “HGVs arriving with severed tree branches hanging off their cabs”.

“Given the topography of Coldharbour Lane, the risks of this happening on the approach to Bury Hill Wood are clearly orders of magnitude greater.  Who will be monitoring this type of damage? How will it be repaired to ensure there is no risk to other road users, in particular from hanging damaged tree branches or detritus on the steepest sections of road, which have up to 20% inclines?”

Another speaker against the scheme, Pat Smith, from Dorking, said images of the lorry route shown during the meeting did not include the narrow sections of Coldharbour Lane. Photocopies were later circulated to the committee after a request from opponents. Pat Smith also complained about the lack of detail in the method statement.

Method statement details

The document, prepared for Europa by R Elliott Associates Ltd, proposed:

  • Joint survey with Surrey County Council of the public highway including the verges and the sunken lanes before development
  • Existing damage would be recorded and photographed
  • A report would be submitted to Surrey County Council
  • A watching brief would cover the period between the survey date and the start of site operations to document further defects
  • During the development, the banks and carriageway of the sunken lane sections would be viewed at least twice each working day
  • There would be additional inspections if an incident occurred
  • HGVs delivering to the site would have in-cab CCTV cameras to minimise damage to the sunken lanes
  • The driver of the vehicle escorting vehicles bringing in the rig will be instructed to report incidents of damage to the supervising engineer “without delay”
  • The supervising engineer would report incidents of damage to the County Highways Authority within 48 hours
  • Two weeks after completion of the development, another survey would take place
  • Any displacement of kerbs would be rectified by lifting and re-bedding the kerbs on completion of development
  • Where a pothole develops, it would be temporarily patched and then fully reinstated at the end of the development.
  • Any overrunning of verges that is attributable to development traffic would be remediated by rebuilding and reseeding.

“Damage is a near certainty”

Leith Hill Action Group, which has fought the oil exploration proposals since 2008, said it was concerned that planning officers had accepted an underlying implication of the method statement that damage was unlikely. The group said:

“Damage is not at all ‘unlikely’; indeed it is a near certainty.

“All literature on the subject suggests that pavement damage, particularly fatigue cracking, is proportional to at least the fourth power of axle weight. And CCTV might show that damage has been caused to the pavement, but it will not show it being caused.

“We therefore suggest that if the document is accepted in its current form, officers take the approach of assuming damage to the road will be caused and organise their inspections according to this assumption.”

A report by Surrey County Council planners said it was unreasonable to automatically attribute any road damage to Europa. It said:

“Absolute proof will be difficult in respect of potholes and other damage to the road surface but this will be picked up on the CCTV and in the twice daily visual inspections.

“Officers, having reviewed the submitted Method Statement are satisfied that the Method Statement provides the information required for Condition 20(ii) and also sets out information on how to minimise damage to the sunken lanes.


Formal complaint

Opponents of the Bury Hill Wood said they would formally complain to the council about the failure of the webcast of the meeting.


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

5 replies »

  1. Repairing road surface is not going to repair the damage to unsuitable roads. Why? Because a designed road construction is based upon the impact of imposed forces from slewing and tearing from the tyres and the load imposed is based upon how many equivalent million standard axles movements from HGV’s of particular combinations of loaded axles.
    Problem 1, The average country rural road was usually a dirt track, used by carts and horses and foot traffic, many of these date back to roman times and earlier tracks. The construction would have been earth and rocks, only later paved and widened in the 19th and 20th centuries. Often the old track was only the width of one cart, 2-3 yards at most. The widening would be usually created by infilling the old drainage ditches and paving that over often, just soil with tar macadam surface. A modern HGV will have a wheel base of 3.5m or so, maybe more with double tyres.
    Pro lem 2. The structural capacity and design load will be low, it may be suitable for slow moving cars, but not multiple regular HGV’s, consider the marching across a footbridge problem, it has to be out of step, or the vibration of in step marching will collapse the bridge, multiply that to regular loaded HGV’s a d you see the problem.
    The structural element of a designed road will be the sub base, upper and lower, and the base which used to be called the road base. The upper layers take the slewing and tearing motions and are called the binding course and the wearing course.
    A rural road will have a narrow carts width with some sort of ageing sub base and a wearing course. What looks like a 3-4m wide road therefore is in fact a narrow strip of actual road and the wheels of an HGV will travel mainly on little more than earth topped with wearing course, being the widening into the verges.
    It can easily be seen that many vehicular movements of 30 to 40 tonne HGV’s will quickly destroy both the road surface and what little sub base there is and collapse the widened sections.
    Multiple regular HGV movements will cause a ripple shock wave effect and the sub base will break up at
    each movement.
    Simply filling pot holes will not make the road suitable for HGV’s. The impact upon wearing course and sub base is that both will suffer a rapid structural failure, further movements will collapse unsuitable roads and the sub base and wearing course will break up and vehicles may even sink up to their axles and have to be hauled out, stopping all traffic for months because the road will be unsafe and should be condemned a d rebuilt with conventional sub base, base, binding course and wearing course suitable for the number of equivalent million standard axles.
    Only total design load and reconstruction will prevent this.
    So we need to know the weight, the frequency and the design specification load capacity of any new movements before considering if a road is suitable or not for the new loading.
    If you are in any doubt about this, ask the army or any HGV delivery company which roads they use to transport vehicles and why other roads are not used.

    • The only way to assess an existing roads suitability for an extra loading of how ever many million equivilent standard axles is to take core samples and test the layers (if any) with their CBR% capabilty, a sub base thickness, 600mm for an underlying soil CBR of 2% or above, a base of perhaps 300mm, a binding course of say 30mm and a wearing course of 25mm should do the job.
      What you will find in a rural road and only in the middle third, will be at best a subsoil of compacted earth 0%CBR, a sub base of at best 300mm and probably all ready ageing and failing, and a wearing course of, if you are lucky, 40mm of ageing cracked tar macadam. At the edges, where most of the wheel loading, tearing and impact will occur will be maybe 150mm cobbles (if you are lucky) and 40mm wearing course or less.
      Suitability for HGV loading? Maybe 5 HGV movements per day at best, and that very slowly.
      How do I know all this?
      Personal design and assessment experience here and abroad.

  2. Phil C – thanks for your expert comments on this issue. Understood and accepted, good to have direct experience on this BB. Perhaps you might also take experience in the O & G industry on board and accept it too?

    • Thanks, just wanted to clarify why filling in potholes will not make rural roads suitable for multiple HGV’s. Why does that feel like “come to the dark side Luke?” Like I have said before the O&G industry is a fact of life, and I have worked here and abroad on the remediation of distribution and storage aspects of the industry, but not the exploration and extraction aspects. All I would like to see with the onshore fracking issue in UK is that we are told the truth about the risks and shown how the gold standard regulations apply. Now I know like many controversial industries the O&G industry likes to show a “nothing to see here” face to the public. Its the same with nuclear and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The particular problem with fracking is that the majority of people have said “No” but it is still imposed.
      So I will say once again and will keep saying, this must be an open and honest free and sincere discussion between all parties, the longer that is delayed the harder and more entrenched will be attitudes on all sides, and anger is all ready reaching danger point. I took a step back deliberately because there are elements who want to turn this into a verbal abuse forum to the point where any forward motion is stultified and obscured.
      I have had little or no response and I have taken that as far as I can go, but it seems no one wants to be free and open about the subject.
      There are those who see this as little more than an excuse to sow division, derision and implied and blatant abuse, perhaps because they are instructed and payed to do so.
      I am not and the only agenda I have is to see it all out in the open and perhaps defuse some anger before it blows up in all our faces and turns into open warfare, don’t think that it cant become that bad.
      So, for the moment, I will and have always considered the reality of the O&G industry, but I am no patsy, no pushover, I don’t follow anyone’s restrictions rules or corporate imperatives, I will continue to make up my own mind and change that if better information comes along. Nothing has revealed a need for change so far, rather it has severely reduced my prior respect for the engineering capabilities of the human race where financial profit and loss imperatives and hidden agenda motives rule above good old engineering common sense, which is why I left the industry in the first place.
      For the moment, thanks but no thanks, I will remain an independent taking a step back.

      [Moderator: One word edited at poster’s request]

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