This post has live updates from discussions by Surrey County Council’s planning committee on proposals by Europa Oil and Gas to install fencing and buildings at its site at Bury Hill Wood near Leith Hill. Link to meeting agenda
The company wants to surround the site with 2m security and 3m deer fencing and install buildings and facilities for security staff. The scheme enlarges the size of the site. The original planning permission, granted by a planning inspector in 2015, said there should be no additional fencing or buildings. The site is in the greenbelt and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Surrey County Council planners have recommended approval. Mole Valley District Council, a statutory consultee, voted against the scheme. One councillor described the scheme as “a blot on the landscape”.
Today’s meeting is expected to hear from representatives of Europa and opponents of the scheme.
Reporting from this meeting has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers
11.54am Vote to approve
The committee votes by five to four in favour of approving the application.
Committee chair, Cllr Tim Hall, urges Europa’s planning consultant, Barton Wilmore, to contact the council early about any new application to deal with the expiry of the site applications on 8 August 2018. He said:
“This site is of great public interest and we would welcome early sighting of anything the company wants to do. We would rather not have the first week of August and people running round.”
11.38am Vote to refuse
The proposal to refuse is defeated by four votes to five.
Cllr Cooksey asks if the permission would expire when the drilling permission expires on 8 August 2018. The committee chair, Tim Hall, asks the officers to find out.
Samantha Murphy says a condition of the permission would require the site to restored at the same time as the drilling site. The permission for mineral extraction expires on 8 August 2018.
Cllr Stephen Cooksey proposes refusal because of harm to the openness of the greenbelt and on highway safety grounds.
11.31am Officer response
Samantha Murphy says the application has its own red line boundary. But it is inextricably linked to the hydrocarbon project. It has its own environmental impact assessment. It would not be there unless the hydrocarbon site was not moving.
Ms Murphy says she is not aware of the terms of the injunction.
The existing fencing is around the groundwater monitoring boreholes and not the drilling site.
Planning manager, Caroline Smith, says the inspector foresaw there may be a need for changes to fencing.
On the changes to the conclusions between the different officer reports, Ms Smith said the first report concluded there would be limited harm but this would be mitigated. On the basis of case law, because of the need, the reversibility and limited duration, officers concluded in the second report there is no harm. Because it is temporary it keeps the site safe from harm. It would be restored to forestry and would not impact on the openness of the greenbelt.
Committee chair, Tim Hall, asks about the increase in the size of the site. Ms Murphy says the increase is because of the “control zone” going around the edge of the site.
11.29am Cllr Natalie Bramhall
Cllr Bramhall asks when the protest camp was established. The planning officer, Samantha Murphy, established the first camp on the site in November 2016. This was removed in June 2017. Another camp was established opposite the access track on the other side of Coldharbour Lane.
Cllr Bramhall said:
“We have a protester camp that is inappropriate development in the Greenbelt. Has anybody put in for retrospective planning permission?”
Ms Murphy said this would be for Mole Valley District Council.
Cllr Bramhall said the fencing would be up for only 18 weeks. But she said: “You have had a protester camp which is still onsite now opposite that’s been there for coming up to 20 or so months.
“I would have thought it would have been better for the residents of Mole Valley if they’d allowed the fencing up for 18 weeks, which the protester camp would then, hopefully have moved on to protest somewhere else.”
Cllr Bramhill said 18 weeks of fencing might be a better solution for the residents of Mole Valley.
11.24am Cllr Ernest Mallett
Cllr Mallett says there seems to be confusion about terms of the greenbelt. There are many installations in the greenbelt. It doesn’t follow that applications can be refused on the basis of harm. There seems to be an assumption that if there is any it precludes the development. That is not the case, he says.
Surrey Highways have approved it on highway grounds so highway problems are not a reason to refuse it, he says.
Do we refuse this, which is reverting back to put a nail in the coffin o the original application which is not the way to go. I can’t see how we can refuse this.
It is a difficult situation because of the amount of protest, he says. But he says “we would be on dodgy grounds to refuse this.
11.20am Cllr Mary Angell
Cllr Angell says she is increasingly confirmed by the officers’ report. The application is free-standing that should be considered on its own merits, the report says. Cllr Angell says there is ducking and diving with the language.
When you go back to the original conditions from the inspector, it cannot be convenient now to ignore that, she says.
Any modern company would know environmental activists would be at the forefront to protect an AONB. They were never going to ignore that. The company should have known a security fence would have been needed.
The increase in the footprint is very substantial, she says. I cannot understand the difference between this application and the last one. I don’t understand how case law changes why the previous application had harm and this one does not.
I have concerns about this, she says.
11.19am Cllr Penny Rivers
Cllr Rivers asks whether there can be limited harm to the greenbelt.
11.17am Cllr Andrew Povey
Cllr Povey asks officers to address the questions raised by opponents of whether it is a free-standing application or linked to the oil and gas development. There is already a fence and an injunction. He asks whether that would be sufficient for security. What would be the consequences of breaches of the injunction, he asks.
In other areas of life, a 15% change is deemed to be significant. A 25-30% increase is very significant, he says. I am struggling to see how this can be allowed in planning terms.
11.12am Cllr Stephen Cooksey
Cllr Cooksey asks why council officers have changed their view from limited to no harm on the openess. Why has there been a change from what was limited harm to now now harm, he asks.
Caroline Smith, the planning development manager, says the planners had clarification from case law and advice from a QC.
Cllr Cooksey says he’s not sure he is any the wiser.
He says the site is extended by 25-30% and is in contravention of the conditions in the original drilling permission, granted by the inspector. The basis of the conditions still applies. There is no doubt whether this is mineral extraction or not that it is inappropriate development in the greenbelt and it is harmful.
The proposal would not preserve the openness of the greenbelt and would damage the visual amenity of Coldharbour Lane. This would be significant in a way that was never expected.
He suggests that Europa should have considered security needs earlier.
There are difficult traffic arrangements in Coldharbour Lane that have not been considered, he says.
There is a very sound case for refusing. He proposes refusal of the application.
11.11am Cllr Matt Furniss
Cllr Furniss asks for clarification for on the number of lorry movements. This is clarified as 28.
As it is temporary, he says he comfortable with the scheme. He suggests an informative condition that the committee would not support permanent fencing or an extension.
11.07am Cllr Keith Taylor
Cllr Taylor says the issue is whether the fencing and security arrangements appropriate. He says virtually every application requires security fencing. There is nothing unusual about that. When applications are originally submitted it is not always possible to predict the security needs and other schemes have changed their security needs, he says. Was it reasonable for Europa to account for this when it submitted the original application in 2008.
Cllr Taylor rejects the argument that the fencing application has nothing to do with hydrocarbon as “daft”. It is inextricably linked, he says.
He says he understands the strong feelings about the original application but can’t see any reason to refuse the application.
11.03am Planning officer
Planning officer Samantha Murphy says the application has come about because of the changed security environment. It is inextricably linked to the hydrocarbon well site.
Ms Murphy confirms that the fencing would be 1m from the edge of Coldharbour Lane. She says the application includes a canteen, toilets, office, water and oil tanks and a generator. The fencing would be installed at the start of the hydrocarbon development and taken down at the end.
Due to the need, short duration and reversibility, officers says the openness of the greenbelt is confirmed, she says.
Ms Murphy says there have been 378 representations on the application.
10.59am Local councillor
Cllr Hazel Watson urges the committee to refuse the application. The fencing is inappropriate development, she says. It would be 1m from the edge of Coldharbour Lane. It would be discordant with the AONB. It enlarges the site and considerable worsens the impact, she add.
She questions whether the permission would have been approved for drilling if the fencing scheme had been included because the inspector relied on the fact that it would not be visible from Coldharbour Lane.
Impact on the openness means there is harm to the greenbelt, she says. It represents an amendment to the original drilling permission and should be refused because that included a condition of no fencing or buildings.
Cllr Watson requests the committee reject the applicaton.
10.52am Victoria Yeangle, Barton Wilmore
Ms Yeandle, representing Europa’s planning consultant, says the security environment has changed since the original application was submitted and approved. The need for adequate security was proved in 2016 when protesters set up a camp on the site. The company has a responsibility to the safety of its staff and the public.
The company has taken professional advice and has been advised to provide the fencing and welfare facilities for staff. The duration would be for 18 weeks. The temporary impact on the greenbelt would be temporary and reversible. No objections have been raised by council officers, she says. It will maintain the health and safety of contractors and protesters.
There would be no impact on the wider landscape character, she says. There would have a negligible effect and would be reversible.
No trees would be removed because of the fencing proposals. The welfare facilities would be at a place where there are no trees. There would be 28 vehicle movements for the fencing and buildings. There would be no external lighting connected to the proposals, she says.
The proposal would allow the exploration to be carried out in 18 weeks. It would minimise the impact on the greenbelt and AONB.
Public speakers against the proposal
10.49am Max Rosenberg
Mr Rosenberg lives in Coldharbour. He says the permission was overturned by the planning court. He says he really surprised that officers are recommending one again that the application is permitted.
It represents inappropriate development in the Green Belt. It would allow Europa to erect industrial fencing and buildings from the drill site all the way up to and along Coldharbour Lane. It would be clearly visible from public view.
The planning inspector permitted exploratory drilling on the understanding that the level of visual intrusion would be low and not visible from Coldharbour Lane.
The council accepted that any harm to openness of the Green Belt necessarily made the application inappropriate development. It strains credibility to state, as officers have now done, that there is no harm to openness at all. There is harm and this harm makes for inappropriate development. Officers have given no reason for reversing their previous view. The visual impact is indisputable. He encourages the application is refused.
10.46am Vicky Elcoate, Dorking resident
Mrs Elcoate says more public money will be used to contest the permission if granted. There is already a fence on the site and there have been no incursions on the site since the eviction of a protest camp. The fencing application was submitted before
The fence would have a big environmental fence which is avoidable. It increases the footprint of the site by a third. It creates an industrial aspect to Coldharbour. Openness will not be preserved, she says.
Mole Valley District Council unanimously opposed the development, describing it as inappropriate. It is an attempt to vary the original permission and it should be turned down.
10.43am Lucy Barford, A voice for Leith Hill
Ms Barford asks why the security fencing was not included in the original application submitted 10 years ago. The company is using the presence of a protest camp to justify the application. It has attempted no community buy-in, despite being instructed to do so by the committee.
The right to protest is legally enshrined, she says. If the public needs further safety then this should be considered separately. The application is highly unwarranted and exacerbating an already tense situationi.
10.38am Alan Hustings
Mr Hustings, a member of Leith Hill Action Group, is speaking as a local resident. He says the original permission required no lighting, fencing or additional buildings.
He says the new application is free-standing and should be judged on its own merits. It is an application to build a fence on land in the greenbelt and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This would amount of inappropriate development in the greenbelt. But it is described as mineral development which would allow it to qualify under legal exemptions.
Agreeing to the application would subject the council to a legal challenge, he says. What would stop the company submitting further free-standing application, he asks. He urges the committee to refuse the applicaton.
10.32am Solicitor gives legal update
Nancy El-Shatoury says the original fencing application was approved in October 2017. Leith Hill Action Group sought a judicial review in December 2017. Ms El-Shatoury says a QC for the council said the authority should concede because of the way greenbelt policy had been dealt with.
The council decided not to contest the judicial review. The planning permission was quashed in March 2018. The legal arguments were not considered by the court. The application comes back to the committee for determination, Ms El-Shatoury says.
10.30am Meeting begins
Committee chair, Tim Hall, opens the meeting.