Councillors have objected to planning applications at oil sites near Leith Hill and at Brockham in Surrey.
By the end of a marathon meeting last night, Mole Valley’s planning committee voted against both schemes, each time against the advice of officers.
The committee is a statutory consultee on the applications. The final decisions will be made by Surrey County Council.
The scheme near Leith Hill is part of a long-running planning dispute over the Bury Hill Wood oil exploration site.
The latest application by Europa Oil and Gas is for security and deer fencing, lighting, a canteen and welfare facilities, water and oil tanks and a generator.
The county council had previously approved the application but it was successfully challenged at the High Court by Leith Hill Action Group and is now being considered again.
The campaign group’s case included many arguments raised by councillors last night.
Planning approval for oil exploration at the site was granted in 2015 by a planning inspector on condition that there should be no additional fencing or buildings and no lighting.
Europa said the fencing and other buildings were now needed because it had to employ 24-hour security to protect the site from protesters. This hadn’t been necessary when the exploration application was made, it said.
The company said the fencing scheme was a stand-alone application for the purpose of mineral extraction. This allowed it to use planning law to argue that it was not necessarily inappropriate development in the greenbelt.
Surrey County Council conceded that there would be limited harm to openness of the greenbelt but it agreed with the company that the scheme was not inappropriate.
Leith Hill Action Group argued successfully that if there was harm to openness it must be inappropriate, regardless of whether it was for mineral extraction.
Mole Valley councillors also argued last night that the fencing proposal breached the original permission conditions by increasing the size of the application site by a quarter.
They said it would have an unacceptable impact on visual amenity in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They also questioned the need for the application and said the cumulative effect should be considered.
There were additional concerns about highway safety because the fencing was expected to be installed on the edge of a narrow, steep and winding road.
Cllr Margaret Cooksey, the vice chair of the Mole Valley planning committee said
“We should send a message to the county council.
“I support people’s right to peacefully protest. The protesters in this case may well be doing it for all the right reasons.”
She described the proposals as “a blot on the landscape”.
“We can’t allow this sort of thing in the greenbelt on the basis that there are protesters.”
Cllr Clayton Wellman said Europa would have been aware of the protests against Cuadrilla’s oil drilling at Balcombe, which, in 2013, happened before the exploration application went before the inspector.
He also said the proposed generator was likely to breach the night time noise conditions.
“We must object because it makes mockery of conditions in the appeal decision.
“This is to get round the inspector’s conditions. We shouldn’t allow it”.
The application is expected to be discussed by the county council on 23 May 2018.
Questions over appraisal scheme
The other application is by Angus Energy for its site at Brockham, near Dorking.
The company is seeking retrospective approval for a sidetrack well, drilled in January 2017.
The county council said there was no planning permission for the work but Angus has consistently disagreed.
Mole Valley councillors questioned whether this was an appraisal application because Angus had told investors it expected to produce oil from the sidetrack this year.
The councillors said the three-year duration asked for in the application was unnecessary and should be reduced to 18 months.
They also called for close monitoring of the site to ensure “there were no deviations” from any permission.
Cllr Tim Loretto said a lot of people locally and further afield were “very upset” by Angus’s operation at Brockham.
The committee said the flare to be installed on the site should be tested and monitored for emissions and Angus should provide evidence of a risk assessment.
DrillOrDrop understands this application is expected to be considered in June. A county council spokesperson told us:
“The County Planning Authority has a statutory duty to determine planning applications. The planning application (ref: MO/2018/0444) for the retention of the BRX4 well, the regularisation of the BRX4Z sidetrack, and the appraisal of BRX4Z using production plant and equipment within the existing site, for a temporary period of three years (part retrospective), is currently scheduled to go Planning and Regulatory committee on the 20 June 2018.”
“No social licence”
The Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose south east England constituency includes both sites said today:
“I’m pleased to see councillors have made the common sense decision to side with their communities and our environment. Neither Angus or Europa have a social licence to drill at Leith Hill or Brockham and the latest applications submitted were as unsound as they are unpopular.”
He said the Leith Hill fencing application was “a significant and unacceptable intrusion into a tranquil and beautiful area”.
On the Brockham application, Mr Taylor said:
“The length of the operations proposed would have a potentially significant impact over a long period of time and are not consistent with a plan for an exploratory drill.