Live updates from Surrey County Council’s planning committee to discuss an application by Europa Oil and Gas for security fencing, buildings and equipment at its exploration site at Bury Hill Wood, near Leith Hill. This report has been made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop
Opponents of the scheme say the application for fencing enlarges the footprint of the site, previously approved by a planning inspector in 2015. Planning officers have recommended approval of the application.
Seven councillors vote in favour of the application for fencing, buildings and equipment. Two vote against.
Caroline Smith, Planning Development Manager
Ms Smith says the inspector concluded that the drilling application was not major development and the benefits outweighed what he said were limited impacts. Even if it had been a major development, it would represent exceptional circumstances to make it inappropriate, she says.
Cllr Bernie Muir
Cllr Muir asks whether the existing lighting will not be on 24-hours. If there are 24-hour patrols, will there be lighting at night, she says. She also asks whether the generator will be working 24 hours.
Planning officer, Samantha Murphy, says the light management plan has been approved. During the drilling phase lighting would be 24-hours. Outside of that phase, there will be no external phase from 7am and 6pm. There will be no change to the lighting management plan, she says. Ms Murphy says spraying is the best way to deal with Japanese knotweed.
Cllr Edward Hawkins
Cllr Hawkins raises the issue of treating Japanese knotweed. He says it should be removed, rather than sprayed, as proposed by planning officers in the conditions. He also says he wants to see environmental improvements on the site on restoration.
Cllr Jeff Harris
Cllr Harris says he is surprised that the protests weren’t taken into account in the original application. He also questions why the original application did not follow the Health and Safety at Work Act, which requires welfare facilities.
He also questions why the police were not consulted.
Cllr Stephen Cooksey
Cllr Cooksey says the inspector was very clear about the size of the site.
“If the inspector had been faced with a site of that size, we can have a good idea of what he would have done.
“It would be a major site.
“What we have now which is 1ha, which is a major site. The inspector would have dealt with it is as a major site, with all those applications.”
Cllr Cooksey asks why no security fencing was included in the original application, if as it says in the officers’ report, that protest activity has been increasing since 2008.
He asks why the fencing can’t be contained in the original footprint.
He says it will damage the AONB and the greeen belt. It is inappropriate development in the green belt and that ought be acknowledged.
The buildings are industrial, he says. The 2m fencing on Coldharbour Lane is inappropriate and out of context for the area. He asks:
“If there is 24-hour security how can it operate with no lighting.”
Extension of the site to a “major site” requires a more restrictive landscape controls.
“There are genuine reasons for refusing this application”
Cllr Ernest Mallett
Cllr Mallett says it is dangerous to suggest what the inspector would have said about the proposal.
Welfare facilities are needed, he says. Objections to the welfare facilities are “out of order”
He says there’s been no objection from the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty board.
“This is a perfectly normal application.
The objections are another sideways attempt to upend what the inspector did, which was to approve the application.
It should not be an item for dissension.”
Cllr Keith Taylor
Cllr Taylor says it is unfair to say that Europa should have predicted the nature of protests.
Cllr Penny Rivers
To applause, Cllr Rivers describes the scheme as a “backdoor” application. Fencing should have been considers when the application was first submitted.
Samantha Murphy, planning officer
Ms Murphy says the application is for 2m security fencing and 3m deer fenciing. The security fencing would be on the edge of Coldharbour Lane. She says the equipment and buildings would be in place for 18 weeks. There will be no external lighting, she says.
She says the development is in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the green belt.
Paul Foster, Barton Wilmore
Mr Foster says the officers have not raised concerns about the fencing scheme. The only potential effect would be visual impact of the fencing. But he says it is below the tree line. It would have “minor-negligible” effects and would be reversible.
The application would be restored back to forestry after exploration.
No trees would be removed. The buildings would be placed in areas where there were no trees. There would be no additional light between the deer and security fences.
Claire Brindley, Barton Wilmore
Ms Brindley, representing Europa, says the temporary security fencing would be in place for 18 weeks. It is standard practice and would meet the company’s safety responsibilities to the public and protesters.
The development is temporary, she says,and would be restored for use by the Forestry Commission.
Cllr Hazel Watson
Cllr Watson, who represents the area around the drilling site.
She says the application would increase the development site by 25%. These structures are industrial in nature and not compatible with the natural beauty of the area.
She says the structures include oil and water storage tanks and welfare and office buildings and a generator.
They are inappropriate development of the green belt and conflict with its purposes by not preserving its openness. She invites the committee to reject the application.
Mr Everett says a protest camp at the Leith Hill site is not the reason for the need for the security fencing. The drilling plans at the site are the reason for the camp.
The right of protest is enshrined in the UK democracy. Exercising democracy should not result in enhanced security.
He recommends the committee act as mediator between the company and the community.
The application should be rejected beccause it risks increasing tension between the two sides.
Ms Elcoate says the fencing scheme would extend the impact of the site. It will have a major visual impact. It would border Coldharbour Lane, from something between 35 and 200m.
It is a significant intrusion into this beautiful area, she says.
She says Europa has underestimated the visual impact of the application.
A footpath is to be closed as part of the application. Ms Elcoate says the proper procedures should followed and a decision deferred.
The application should be refused, she says.
Mr Rosenberg, a resident of Coldharbour, says if the application at this scale had gone before the planning inquiry it would have been refused. It would have constituted major development.
This application increase 1.01ha and therefore more than size required for major development. There is every chance that the inspector would have decided this was major development and may have refused the whole development.
The fencing scheme allows the site to be visible from Coldharbour Lane and continues along the lane for at lest 100m.
There is every chance that if he had seen the fencing scheme he would have refused the scheme because of its visual impact.
The inspector specifically said there should be no lighting outside 9am-5pm apart from the drilling phase. But it is inconceivable that the living accommodation would have no lighting, Mr Rosenberg says.
The lighting has been blamed on changes in protest activity. But this was known when the lighting impact assessment. It was not included because Europa knew it would be turned down if the lighting had been included.
Mr Haskins says the application breaches conditions set by the planning inspector who granted permission, which said buildings should not be put on
“I hope we don’t have to go to court.
“You can expect a legal challenge if you grant this today.”