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.
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.
- Method Statement (Mole Valley District Council website)Surrey County Council report by planning officersDecision notice of the most recent public inquiry
Opponents of the Bury Hill Wood said they would formally complain to the council about the failure of the webcast of the meeting.