New setback for Europa’s oil drilling plans near Leith Hill in Surrey

Leith Hill eviction 170621 Dan Harvey 7

Site vehicle on Coldharbour Lane. Photo: Dan Harvey

Europa Oil and Gas has withdrawn all the proposals for managing lorries delivering to its exploratory drilling site near Leith Hill in Surrey.

The company has also pulled out of an appeal against the county council over delays in agreeing the proposals.

The construction traffic management plan (CTMP) is the last planning condition with which Europa must comply in order to start work on the site at Bury Hill Wood, near Dorking.

The site, known to the industry as Holmwood, is near the village of Coldharbour on a shoulder of Leith Hill, in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Part of the proposed lorry route is along a narrow, winding lane that runs steeply uphill between historic tree-lined banks.

Planning permission was approved in 2015 by a government-appointed inspector after two public inquiries and two court cases. The permission runs until August 2018.

Difficulties of traffic route


The traffic route to Bury Hill Wood. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Transporting construction materials and equipment to the site has been source of opposition and a challenge for the company since the application was first made in December 2008.

During discussions on the CTMP at the second inquiry, the inspector, Stuart Nixon, told Europa:

“Your whole process relies on management down to the minute. But I am not sure that the information before the inquiry gives me confidence that you are able to achieve that.”

Sections of the route are not wide enough for a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) to pass another car or lorry. There are also questions about whether the rig could be delivered because of overhanging trees, some protected by tree preservation orders.

People living on the route have complained that they could be trapped in their homes and the emergency services would delayed when deliveries were made. Europa denies this.

Surrey County Council’s planning committee deferred decisions on one CTMP in August and another in October 2017 to get more information from Europa. The company announced in November 2017 that it was appealing against the non-determinations.

LH planning meeting 2

Surrey County Council’s planning committee meeting on 2 August 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The Planning Inspectorate and Surrey County Council confirmed today that Europa had withdrawn the appeal. The county council also confirmed that the company had withdrawn two of the most recent CTMPs.

In correspondence with local people, the county council said:

“We will therefore take no further action in respect of this applications.”

The residents’ organisation, Leith Hill Action Group, told its members today:

“As of now, 10 years into the process, they [Europa] have no submission in place for any attempt to formulate a coherent traffic management plan”.

The group added:

“We appeal to county councillors to consider carefully the claim we have been making for 10 years now – there is no workable traffic system possible for this drill site. If Europa haven’t managed to come up with one in 10 years, what is going to change?”

Problems with the holding area

Ryka Cafe.jpg

Car park at the Ryka Cafe. Photo: Ryka Cafe

DrillOrDrop asked the Planning Inspectorate, county council and Europa for the reasons behind the withdrawal of the appeal and CTMPs but our questions were not answered.

One sticking point for Europa appears to be a proposed holding area for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This would be used to marshal the HGVs before they make the final stage of the journey up Coldharbour Lane to the site. The holding area would allow the company to phase deliveries at certain times and prepare its traffic controllers for incoming vehicles.

In an earlier version of the CTMP, Europa proposed a holding area in the car park at Ryka Café, just off the A24, at the foot of Box Hill. It later emerged that the company did not have permission and, once the owner found out about the plan, consent was refused.

A later CTMP proposed using motorway services at Cobham on the M25. But councillors wanted confirmation that there would be a dedicated area for the heavy goods vehicles. We understand this was refused.

DrillOrDrop understands that an alternative to the services was being considered most recently. This was a public layby on a dual carriageway between two roundabouts taking traffic on and off the M25. We understand there were public concerns about whether the layby could be used safely by vehicles delivering to the site.  People were particularly worried about the impact of expected protests and the potential tailback of traffic on to the motorway.

“One of the best onshore drilling opportunities”

Europa Oil and Gas

Earlier this month, Europa’s chief executive, Hugh Mackay told shareholders:

“The Holmwood prospect in the Weald Basin represents one of the best onshore UK drilling opportunities on a risk/reward basis.” Link

In interim half year results, the company said:

“Subject to the CTMP condition being discharged we will look to drill Holmwood in late 2018.”

Consultants for Europa had estimated prospective resources of 1-11 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe). The midpoint of 5.6m boe would make the oil field the fifth largest UK onshore oil field, the company says.*

But under the current permissions, time is running out for Europa and its partners at Bury Hill Wood, Angus Energy, Egdon Resources, UKOG, Union Jack Oil and Altwood Petroleum.

The current planning permission expires on 7 August 2018 and Europa would need to apply to Surrey County council for an extension.

The initial term of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence for the area covering the site, PEDL143, expires on 30 September 2018.

As Ben Dean reported for DrillOrDrop earlier this month, Europa has to drill a well to move to the second or appraisal term. There have been numerous extensions of the initial term, taking time off the appraisal term, which is now down to two years.

Ben Dean said:

“If a well was not drilled before 30 September 2018, then PEDL143 would have to have an extension to its Initial Term. If the Second Term remained at two years, then the Third Term would be required to be reduced by the same amount of time granted for the extension of the Initial Term.”

* The current fifth onshore oil production field at Humbly Grove produces 2% of the UK onshore total. Source: industry figures for 2017 submitted to the Oil and Gas Authority.

6 replies »

  1. Thankyou Ruth and Paul, and congratulations Leith Hill Action Group and also to Surrey County Council for prevailing with common sense to show that this impossible traffic proposal is totally unsuitable in Bury Hill Wood for this or any industrial development of any description.

  2. Surrey County Council… common sense? I don’t think those two go together. Another clear example of political obstruction on a grand scale using any means necessary. If you don’t like the laws, then make new ones. Instead, this planning board consistently shows no desire to make objective, informed (and legal) decisions and, instead, simply sticks to their partisan agenda, believing that any year now the people of the UK will all start using solar powered cars.

  3. Well folks its Sunday again? I am invited me out to lunch today, so i can give the kitchen a rest and enjoy the morning for a change.

    I didnt know quite what to do for our mornings Sunday entertainment,but i thought just one more Will Shakespeare scene was just too appropriate to pass up with these traffic inquiries so uppermost in our minds?

    So, with deepest apologies to any die hard Shakespeare fan for the wordplay, here is one last little excerpt:

    The Traffic Tragedy of Frackdeth
    William Quakespheare Act 4, Scene 1

    SCENE I. A darkling fracking cavern. In the middle, a boiling toxic cauldron.

    Thunder. Enter the three Witches
    First Witch
    Thrice the plann’d traffic’d track hath slew’d in’t ditch.

    Second Witch
    Thrice and once the HGV-multi wheel’d deferred this hitch.

    Third Witch
    Heavy Goods in quiet neighbourhoods
    The Carrier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.

    First Witch traces tracks in the cauldron making spells
    Roundabout the causeway go;
    In the poison’d grime trails slow.
    Breadth not width of road,
    Trucks that thunder’s o’er tarmac’s unforgiving cold stone
    Diverse days and nights has thirty-one
    Swelter’d under xenon’d glare trucks speeding goes,
    Bore thou be first i’ the black cat alarm’d spotlight.

    Double, bubble traffic trouble;

    Diesel burn, and causeway crumble.

    Second Witch
    Forge on’t to greed of money make,
    On the quiet causeways truckers thirst will slake
    Big Oil spoils from Satans Nav’s sexy voice’s ways mistake;
    O’er eye of cat an’ slow’d in fog,
    Squash’d be the hedgepig and corpse of dog
    Roadkillers prize and tacho’d graph’s faked log
    Work’d of autoTRACK’s and touch of CAD’s mouses sting,
    Tractor’s way that fork’d and blind-corner’s swing,
    Daggers’s Lane and The Hand’s at Owlet’s wing’ed congest’s bring,
    For thy lack of charm’d excess’s powerful trembles thee,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble fee.

    Double, trouble traffic trouble;
    Diesel burn and causeway crumble.

    Third Witch
    Shale of dragon, broth of waste,
    Walkers shaved and mothers, prams and childs engulf’d unsafe’d
    Off the raving’d tacho’d graph’d speed motorway’s sharks,
    Routes of steering’s lock’d and skidd’d i’ the dark,
    Sliding on the slippery morning ice and dew,
    Glare of horn, and gasps of yaw and slew
    Like silver’d ghostly ships in the moon’s eclipse,
    Squeal of brakes and starter’s grind,
    Middle Finger of girth-strangled ape
    Ditch-deliver’d by a cab,
    Make fossil fuels slick and sad:
    Add thereto th’ threat of deadlines stiffl’d caution had,
    For the ingredients of our traffic’s cauldron mad.

    Double, bubble traffic trouble;

    Diesel burn and causeway crumble.

    Second Witch
    Collide’t with a stormy flash of flood,
    When the windy roads are swarm’d in mud.

    Enter HGV’s three Witches
    O well done! I commend your pains;
    And every one shall share i’ the gains;
    We gather roundabout the fracking cauldron and sing,
    To th’ Drill that Delves and Flares that Poison Bring,
    Polluting with’al that you put in.

    Fell Music song: ‘Black spirits, in the fossil gaseous air do bring’

    HGV witches retyre,ungracefully
    Second Witch hesitates:
    By the pricking of my thumbs,
    Something wicked this way comes.
    Open, traffics highways skids and locks
    Lives and limbs mean nothing now
    When it be frackers trackers opportunity that knocks!

    All hail Frackdeth!

  4. Commonsense at last. How this company felt it had a right to cause so much potential traffic chaos to the surrounding area amazes me. Good riddance to them.

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