More delay for Leith Hill oil site as minister rules on security fencing


The Communities Secretary has ruled that plans for security fencing at Europa’s oil site near the Leith Hill beauty spot in Surrey need a detailed assessment of their impact on the environment.

A planning application due to be considered by Surrey County Council this morning was taken off the agenda because of the ruling. The plans are now unlikely to be decided until June and the delay could be even longer.

Europa said it needed to install security fencing at its site in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to prevent protesters obstructing or occupying the site entrance.

The latest decision by Sajid Javid, released on Monday (20 March 2017), reverses an earlier ruling issued in 2016. The u-turn follows pressure from Leith Hill Action Group, a local group opposed to drilling for oil at the site in Bury Hill Wood.

The group said this week:

“This is a major victory and makes Europa’s path forward difficult, although it certainly isn’t the end of the story for them.”

The group remains concerned about another decision on fencing. This has been made by Surrey County Council planning officers and could come into force tomorrow (23 March 2017). Opponents of drilling at Bury Hill Wood says it could block access to the site for residents and visitors for many months.

Multiple applications

Europa has now submitted five separate planning applications for the Bury Hill Wood site, dating back to the first that was sent to Surrey County Council in December 2008.

The company finally got planning permission for the oil site in August 2015.

The consent was subject to 23 conditions, including one which required the whole operation to last no longer than 18 weeks.

A month later, in September 2015, Europa also received consent for a drilling corridor, the area under which the exploratory oil well would be drilled.

Fencing for 18 weeks


Protest at the entrance to the Bury Hill Wood site

Europa made its third application in September 2016. This was for 2m high Heras-type security fencing and 3m high deer fencing. The application also included office and welfare accommodation, water and fuel tanks and a generator. It extended the footprint of the application site.

The application stated:

“The proposed development is temporary in nature and would not exceed the 18 weeks permitted by the exploratory wellsite.”

It added:

“The temporary fencing and gates are now necessary to prevent protestors obstructing the Site entrance who could cause delays to the permitted 18 weeks. In order to avoid such delays, the temporary fencing would prevent protestors setting up camp at the Site entrance.”

The Communities Secretary was asked to decide whether the application needed an Environmental Impact Assessment.

On 21 November 2016, he concluded that the fencing was not likely to have “significant effects on the environment”. He said likely impacts had been addressed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the original application for the well site.

The decision note concluded:

“There is no evidence that the proposed development will result in the exceedance of legal environmental standards and so the Secretary of State considers that significant impacts as a result of the proposals are not likely.

“The Secretary of State does not consider that the relatively small loss of land (some 0.2ha) and the temporary nature of the site fencing and the welfare facilities for an 18 week exploratory phase and the resulting environmental impacts will be significant.

“He concludes that, having assessed the evidence presented, the relatively limited impacts will not, in his view, be considered to be significant.”

Fencing for 52 weeks

A month after the ruling, on 19 December 2016, Europa submitted another application for fencing. This appeared to be identical to the earlier one, except this time the fencing would be in place for 52 weeks.

Surrey County Council concluded in January 2017 that this application needed an environmental impact assessment. Europa appealed against this to the Secretary of State, who ruled again on 21 February 2017.

This time he said:

“the proposal is likely to have significant effects on the environment”.

Ruling in the council’s favour, he said it counted as an EIA development.

“Any application for planning permission for this development must be accompanied by an Environmental Statement.”

Mr Javid concluded

“the construction, operation and decommissioning of the proposed security fencing and welfare facilities has not been fully assessed as part of the wider project and whether this will generate any significant adverse environmental effects that might impact on the heritage sites or landscape status of the site.”

The decision notice added that there was likely to be a significant increase in the use of the road network because of the fencing and welfare facilities, as well as protest activity.


Protest against drilling at Bury Hill Wood. Photo: Jon O’Houston

U-turn on 18-week fencing

In the meantime, Leith Hill Action Group had been pushing for the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision on the 18-week fencing application.

On Monday 20 March 2017, the Secretary of State changed his mind.

He concluded that the proposal would have significant environmental effects and directed that it needed an environmental impact assessment.

LHAG said:

“We are very pleased to see the Secretary of State agree with us that the extensive additional industrialisation requested by Europa requires a new Environmental Impact Assessment before it be granted.

“We believe that the proposed extension of the site area by 29% (taking it over the threshold size for “major development”) combined with fencing that will now make the site visible from general public areas is such a large change to the nature of the development that the Inspector at the Planning Inquiry would have refused planning permission if it had been part of the original application.

“Europa should either move ahead with their development in its 2015 approved form or they should make a fresh application from scratch to include any additional industrialisation they feel is necessary.”

DrillOrDrop asked Europa to comment on Mr Javid’s decision. We will update this post with any response.


Imminent local concerns about more fencing plans

Europa has also applied to install a 1.1m reptile fence in an area of 0.016ha at the Bury Hill Wood site. This has yet to be considered by Surrey County Council’s planning committee.

But yet another set of fencing has been approved, without even going before the committee, and this is concerning residents.

Planning officers have given the go-ahead for groundwater monitoring boreholes at Bury Hill Wood, required as a condition in the original planning permission for the site.

The boreholes themselves are not controversial. But the plans for them include Heras fencing around the borehole locations, a portacabin and round-the-clock on-site staffing.

The boreholes’ project was approved under what is known as permitted development, without the need for a planning application or public consultation. On 16 March 2017, the council confirmed these plans did not need an environmental impact assessment.

The approval allows for security fencing to be installed for a total of ten months, starting six months before drilling. As well as the fencing, the project would close the access track and make a large part of the drill site inaccessible, opponents say. Under the approval, Europa could begin work tomorrow (23 March 2017).

Leith Hill Action Group has sought a screening direction about why these plans do not need an Environmental Impact Assessment. Some councillors have asked why the borehole project has not been treated as a standard planning application and opened up to public consultation.

Restoration plan

Today’s meeting of Surrey’s planning committee approved a landscape restoration plan for Bury Hill Wood.

The plan, which is designed to deliver a five-year programme of aftercare, was another condition required by the original planning permission.

Cllr Susan Watson, who represents the Bury Hill Wood area, said the plan had to be enforceable for the full five years.

Committee member, Cllr Mary Angell, described the wording as “very loose” and said it should state specifically who was responsible for the after care. She said:

“This is an important site. We need to be absolutely clear.”

Council officers said it was not possible to assign responsibility in the plan because planning permission went with the land, not an individual.

Key facts, timeline and links for Bury Hill Wood

29 replies »

  1. Does anyone in their right mind seriously think that the Bury Hill Wood Leith Hill beauty spot in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is in the slightest remotest way suitable for an industrial exploitation desecration?
    I mean seriously, even in your worst nightmare would you believe that this desecration would even be legally possible?
    Once again we see an almost insane desire by the oil and gas industry to destroy our most treasured beauty spots in this country? The reason for this and other treasured sites being targetted points to a deeper agenda, something darker and more pernicious then mere industrial exploitation.
    Its like a mental illness, this insane desire to ransack the very heart of our countryside, one could speculate on the real agenda here.
    I really do think if this destruction is allowed to go ahead, there will be nothing in this countryside that can be preserved, the argument will always be, well you didn’t stop us turning Bury Hill Wood into an industrial mess, so you cannot object to us destroying your farm, your village, your town, your city, your entire country, you should have stopped us while you could, its too late now.

    • Why ever not, there have been millions upon millions of old industrial sites in the UK and as they shut down nature comes right back in and takes over. These days nature is given a hand. Have you any evidence to suggest that Bury Hill has never been used at some time in the distant past for some kind of industrial activity ? I am afraid if you want progress, even to use your computer, as you have done here, you need industry

      • If you want evidence then perhaps look for it yourself, you miss the point, just because a site has been industrialised before, it does not mean that it can be desecrated again, that is not even rational.
        You could equally say that just because fly tipping has happened in some places, then why not do it everywhere? Just because the last industrial revolution polluted the air, the land and the water and enslaved people why should we not do the same now?
        That is quite ridiculous.
        We don’t want or need unfettered exploitation conveniently called progress, we want intelligent truly renewable energy production that does not destroy what few areas of outstanding natural beauty we still have free unpartitioned access to.
        Destruction of such a place can never be justified no matter how it is excused, the roads are totally unsuitable, the site is beautifully pristinely quiet and peaceful, that must be and will be preserved at all costs.
        That’s a NO.

      • This is ancient woodland not an old industrialist. You cannot repair hundreds or even thousands of years of woodland.

      • Vernan Walker, [edited by moderator], millions upon millions of industrial estates, really what planet are you from ? Look where progress is getting us ? You think oil is really the most important asset ? There are many new technologies available and this government needs to start putting the health of our planet before the wealth of the fat cats, the lies that have been spun by this government making out that we need energy security is just utter tosh. This government should be investing in renewables as it is simply the most logical way forward. Nature is our most precious asset and we need to really start respecting it more rather than materialistic wealth.

  2. The company board must be nut to pick such beautiful area to drill for oil. Especially in these markets and environmental awareness.

  3. One of the few silver linings in the local fight against fracking is this it is bringing home the sort of exploitation and disregard for environmental justice that is rife in the minerals industry worldwide. Be it slave like conditions of cobalt mining in the Congo, the wanton destruction of pristine areas and subsistence farming communities due to Gold and Copper mining in Papua New Guinea or any number of similar sites, we have been turning a blind eye to the injustice being served up to peoples of other nations to satisfy the demands of the consumption in the OECD nations. I hope that everyone that gets fired up about fracking in the UK also backs plans to better regulate industry worldwide.

    • Who has suggested fracking at Leith Hill?? What size is the site of the proposed exploration well as a percentage of the Bury Wood area. If you want to see industrial landscapeing take a look at Singapore’s botanical gardens and also the way they have covered the most ugly road system supports in beautiful greenery. It just takes a little thought.
      Surely we should look at how to make the impact of any industry an advantage to both the environment as well as industry,not just say “not in my backyard” whilst pushing the problem on to the undefended third world to supply us with the things we desperately need to run a successful economy where the general population live in relative plenty to the cost of the third worlds populations.
      It would seem that the populations local to any form of development suffer from extreme selfishness, while trying to appear to be defenders of the environment and knights in shinning armour.

    • Hi…to cross party frack free.
      Yes, and I have seen the impact of extraction industries abroad. In the cases you note above where dictatorships are prevalent and the rule of law is not as well established as the UK. The money flows to corrupt political leaders. I think we should concentrate on extracting what we can in the U.K., where standards are far higher. Then from countries with similar regulation to ours. Australia and America come to mind.

      In the meantime, for each drilling site, be it in Surrey, Nottinghamshire or Lancashire why not build a 20 unit wind farm and a square mile of solar panels, paid for out of the expected local windfall. That wind farm and solar farm will be there beyond the lifespan of conventional or fracking activities, by which time they may not need subsidies.
      Sound like a plan?

  4. The company has planning permission to drill for oil. So now the antis are complaining about temporary fencing? What a farce. You lot need to move on. You tried and failed to stop the well getting planning permission, fair enough that you tried. But objecting to a bit of temporary fencing? Desparation. How does some fencing destroy an AONB? Come up here and you can see 8 off 90m wind turbines in our AONB for 20 years. That is an environmental impact – not a few hunded yards of fencing. You are losing what little credibility you had left. Perhaps the SOS lives nearby? He had no problem with fencing in the Fylde although that is as far as you can get from AONB qualification.

    • What a farce eh ! If you really think that it is just about the fencing, i dunno how you would be able to understand the real situation. The problem is Paul, people just think it is resonable behaviour to keep taking, taking and taking. Over the last two hundred years we have destroyed more of this planet than there has been since the first humans. That isnt a statement that has just been pulled out of the hat. It is irrefutable fact. You come out labels such as “anti’s” treehuggers etc but the simple truth is that we are the ones who have the capacity to look beyond the £. We have high moral compasses we are passionate about nature and understand only too well the fragility of it and by not protecting it will cuse huge detriment to it and to future generations. We have already taken too much and if we keep allowing it to be destroyed …then what else is left apart from parks and zoos.
      So yeah, it starts with planning permission then fences and industrialisation and security.
      Whar we do now will effect generations in the years to come.

      Do people really think that the government care about the environment ….Don’t be naive, profit is the most important asset to them, and don’t even get me started on tax avoidance unless things change, us so called “anti’s” have to fight this destructive industry.

      • So Steve, what would you like to see happen? How do you plan to fix the world? What do you propose as an alternative to the millions of people who aspire to our way of life (well most of ours)? The evolving middle classes in India, China, Asia…

        The big difference between us is that I am a realist and understand human nature, you are, well what are you exactly? You can bang your head against as many walls as you want but you are in a very tiny minority. A bit like the Lib Dems and the Greens.

        We need energy, we need fuel, we need oil and gas. I don’t agree with intrusive developments in AONBs – I have fought them for years up here. But as someone on this BB, Phil C, has just confirmed, permissions have been granted. If you feel you are wronged, go to court and try and stop it.

        But to make an issue out of fencing is to me “a farce”.

        Good luck with your mission.

        • Paul

          It’s never about winning, it’s simply about standing up for what you believe in. To just accept things is not an issue. If we just hoabout accepting things where will that lead us. You say you are a realist, what exactly is real about accepting things …again, names. There are many people who intrinsically know what is right and what is wrong. The government and ofcourse the oil and gas industry claim that we are going to run out of oil/gas within the next 25/30 years. I find it pretty easy to understand that the reason they would say that is simple, it’s because they have a financil agenda. Why is the government hiking up taxes for renewable energy companies such as solar and yet giving huge tax reductions to the fossil fuel companies.

          One of the most inspiring and important books I’ve ever read was Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom. When he and his close friend Walter Sasulu got together with a handful of other likeminded souls and formed the ANC they never said we won’t ever abolish apatite. Those few people took on the might of the South African government and the millions of whites who teied to oppress them. Yes it took many many battles, but they didn’t fight because they wanted to win, although that was the end goal. It was about standing up for your beliefs no matter how big or piwerful the enemy is. Were they realists ? I’m sorry Paul but even if we ran out of oil /gas tomorrow. I’m not going to just give up life.I live off-grid and take very little. I’m doing the best that I can with what I have. To me it’s about drawing the line in the sand and saying enough is enough. Thank you for listen.

          Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

        • There is no hope for anyone if that is all you can aspire to Paul.
          Its not being a realist at all, its accepting petty human limitations and self interest as if that can never improve. Nothing ever improved without some people striving for something better, every advance, every freedom, every aspiration towards a better future, is because some people, often one of your despised minorities, stand up and say “we have got to be better than this” or we all just drown in our own sorry mediocrity and recidivism. In that jaded view of the world we would still be dragging our knuckles along the ground looking for nature to give, and give, and give. No plan, no hope, no aspirations, just more of the same depressing yesterdays.
          Maybe we stop taking and start giving back and preserving what we still can while we still can, Wild? Mad? Naive? No, just common sense!
          Btw, don’t try and drag my name into your defense, I give you no such support, its the county council who show even worse defeatism than you do, go look to them for support, if you are that desperate, fight your own battles, leave me off of your side. Some of us would rather fight for something better than merely “what is”. What made you so defeatist?

          • I thought you denied being SafetyCatch Phil C. So we were correct all along…..Always a problem trying to keep the alias up.

            • Ha ha! What a laugh! You said SafetyCatch was some film film maker or other didnt you? Do try to be consistent? Another wild stab in the dark I suppose?
              SafetyCatch is sat right beside me, she is laughing her head off!
              Serves me right for using her phone!
              So no, I’m not SafetyCatch, but she inherited my sense of humour at least!
              Sorry to disappoint guys. Close but no cigar!
              But of course this is just another diversion away from the subject isn’t it? Better than addressing the issues i suppose? Irrelevant at best.
              Once again, do you have no issues whatsoever in turning BuryHill Wood into an industrial site?
              You haven’t answered that at all? Why not?

            • No problem with the fence Phil C / Safety catch. As planning permission has been granted for the well then I also have no problem with the well as it would appear that their are no planning issues. The fence would probably not be needed if there were no swampys around? So how does that work – swampys object to something designed to keep them out?

              • Hello Paul, how nice to talk to a fellow empath, your tireless self sacrificing efforts to support the little guy against the face stamping corporations and preserving the environment for our children is always an inspiration and a lesson to us all.
                I always thought the fences were to keep the frackers in and stop them mowing down the public, not to keep anyone out, the razor wire is on the inside.
                Don’t tell anyone, but I heard the plan is to build enough of these razor wire cages and eventually get all of the frackers inside of their own free will, then when they are all safely inside we will lock the gates and throw aways the keys.
                Shhhhh! Keep it under your hat, no ones supposed to know!
                Have a fantastic weekend Paul, you deserve it!

  5. A little wild Paul?
    I will be equally wild then,
    I am sure that you are perfectly aware that the fencing issue is only the beginning, that’s why you minimise it. Razor wire fencing in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of is an outrageous partitioning off aimed at the heart of this place, its first destructive step to carving a foothold onto the property, next it will be huts with or without planning permission for security, cameras and secretive and/or overt monitoring of people passing, then cutting down trees, then site works, entrance road and it all starts to encroach on this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which will slowly allow more and more and its just a slippery slope down to desecration.

    its all about ownership, control, possession, the overt stamping of the boot hard onto the heart of the location, once that starts, anything goes.

    This site should never, never, even in the most fevered drive to exploit oil, have ever been considered for an industrial development. If there is one place in this country that is totally no go, it is this one.

    The next target will be to attack the totally unsuitable roads, they are far too narrow, and they have no structure at all to withstand multiple HGV movements, cutting down the overhanging trees, carving out the unstable embankments to allow for HGV’s traffic orders to control movement, desecration of the ancient paved track that will break up and collapse within days of indisputably unsuitable HGV trafficking, That will be propped up with road works to repair surfaces, and i have all ready detailed how futile that will be.

    Utterly utterly despicable hatred for this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and i mean the whole plan.The county council must be insane to even consider this as a site for industrialisation.

    Thats a NO!

  6. Phil C – perhaps I am misunderstanding this particular well. I thought that all permissions (including from highways) had already been granted. The exception being the fencing? Are you saying that the company does not yet have permission from the authorities for their traffic movements?

    • I don’t think you misunderstand anything.
      You know perfectly well permissions were granted, how or why, is something beyond all rational reasoning and logic. The very idea that this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, should ever have been considered even remotely feasible, in any parameter you care to mention, is utterly Insane, as I have all ready said. This site is totally unsuitable in every way.
      You would seriously support the industrialisation of this site? Really? You have no concern whatsoever? None?

  7. “Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone”. (Off grid and taking very little?)

    And you checked the carbon footprint to produce that bit of kit??

    Would have thought carrier pigeons might have been more appropriate.

    • [Edited by moderator] If we want an absolute zero carbon footprint then the whole of humanity should be wiped out. [Edited by moderator] I live off-grid because I’m trying to do as much as possible to lower my carbon footprint, I never said that I live with a zero carbon footprint. Fracking / acidisation is the wrong way to fulfill our ernergy needs in the 21st century, we have to be clever in finding ways of reducing our energy needs and working towards creating and maintaining energy needswith renewables. It’s as simple as that. I’m doing the best I can with the resources and knowledge I have.

  8. Always fascinating to watch the o&g&t’s in action, leaping onto the tiniest personal factor and blowing that out of all proportion instead of answering or addressing the issues.
    It is enlightening to see what all the oil and gas is actually used for. The industry would have us believe that its all gas fired central heating, oil and gas fired centralised power generation and fuel for vehicular engines. Don’t be intimidated by that.
    The truth however is far from that. You will all be told that if you object to o&g&t exploitation you should not use your car or heat your home. That is like saying if you object to the depletion of water aquifers, then you should not drink water, yet most of your drinking water is being given away to industry for little or nothing, they squander trillions of gallons yet its you pay who pay a high price to subsidise them and get charged outrageously for the tiny amount you use yourself in comparison. The o&g&t industry use millions of gallons of water per drill and squander it for practically nothing, you would be charged millions for the same usage. That is your drinking water being squandered.. Not only that all that water is now polluted and radioactive and has to be disposed of somewhere or dumped into the nearest waterway, like the Manchester Canal for example?
    Its the same with o&g&t the massive majority is used for cheap energy for industrialised processes, yet you pay increasingly large fees for the tiny bit you use and simultaneously subsidise industry who squander the vast balance and pay next to nothing for it.
    So next time the o&g&t proliferator agents tell you if you want to object to o&g&t exploitation of our finite resources you can laugh and say, the o&g&t industry only feeds itself at your expense, the tiny amount you use, you get charged the earth for is insignificant compared to the incestuous squandering of the majority of it by their own industrial processes who pay practically nothing for it. Once again you are being conned.
    If you want to know what is being made with all that cheap subsidised energy, just look at the UK arms industry sales across the world, the only growth industry of choice.
    Don’t let them tell you its all to heat your homes or run your car.

    • Hi
      Out with any of the other discussions, I am not sure about the bit about cheap subsidised energy. In the U.K. Energy use is, in decreasing use, …Transport, Domestic, Industry and then Service Industries. Is industry subsidised while transport, domestic and services are not? They are not the main users, and fuel is well taxed, and as most freight is on the roads, only a small % of transport is electrified.

      In addition, for water use, in the U.K, 70% of water useage is for domestic use, the remaining 30% is split between industry use and leakage, with industry slightly higher than leakage. I am using the WRAP data. In the U.K. Where do you get your data from that trillions of gallons are squandered, compared to the pittance we use domestically? The focus on water saving has been focussed on domestic supplies and leakage as together they account for more than 80% of the use.

      This may be different abroad of course, given we have de industrialised and like to (or have access to) import fresh veg all year round

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