The company behind oil exploration near Leith Hill in Surrey has submitted three new planning applications for the site.
Europa Oil & Gas is seeking another three years to drill a well at Bury Hill Wood (also called Holmwood) after the original permission ran out last week.
It also wants to drop a previous obligation for a lorry holding area away from the site.
Europa has additionally applied to extend the period of permission for security fencing and facilities and the underground drilling corridor.
Surrey County Council has said the applications will be decided by its planning and regulatory committee, rather than a planning officer. The earliest the applications would be decided is a committee meeting on 21 November 2018, the council said.
The council also said there would be a 30-day public consultation on the applications. At the time of writing this had not formally opened. Comments would be received up to midday on 20 November 2018, or a day before any later committee hearing, the council said.
Europa’s first application – 2018/0092 – seeks to extend by three years the period of the permission to drill and explore for oil. It also seeks to remove the need for the holding area for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
The application runs to 90 documents and includes an environmental statement, dated July 2018, of more than 1,000 pages.
Technically, the application seeks to vary two conditions set by a planning inspector when Europa was granted planning permission in August 2015 after a public inquiry. This application is being dealt with under Section 73 of the Town and County Planning Act which allows developers to change or remove conditions to a consent.
The only work carried out at the Bury Hill Wood site since permission was granted in August 2015 has been construction of water monitoring boreholes and the eviction of a protest camp.
Condition 3 of the 2015 permission said the work must be carried out and the site restored by 7 August 2018, three years after the inspector’s decision.
Europa seeks to make the duration of the permission six years from 2015. It does not explain why the work was not completed in the time granted.
Condition 19 of the 2015 permission required a Traffic Management Scheme, including details of a remote HGV holding area, to regulate the movement of lorries to the site.
The Traffic Management Scheme (TMS) has not yet been approved by councillors. The campaign group, A Voice for Leith Hill, says the TMS is now on its 14th version.
One sticking point has been the location of the HGV holding area. DrillOrDrop understands that Europa failed to get permission for sites at the Ryka Café car park off the A24, Cobham services on the M25 and a layby on a dual carriageway near a slip road to the M25.
In the new application, the company said the holding area was no longer needed because it had changed the construction method of the site access road from stone to aluminium trackway.
“This change has resulted in a reduction in the numbers of HGVs required and therefore the method by which the HGVs are managed to ensure no impacts on the road network needs to be updated.
“When the proposed access road was to be constructed in stone large numbers of HGVs were required and in order to queue HGVs off-site. With the change in construction methodologies the use of an aluminium track will not need the same number of HGVs, consequently there is no need to queue HGVs off-site and therefore the holding area is no longer needed and this change needs to be reflected in the Traffic Management Scheme.”
The permission set in 2015 included Condition 4 which limited work at the Bury Hill Wood site to 18 weeks. This condition has not changed in the new application.
Security fencing and facilities application
The second application – 2018/0093 – seeks to extend permission for security fencing and buildings on the site for another three years.
This application was approved in May 2018 with the same expiry date as the main drilling permission. It was opposed by the residents’ groups, Leith Hill Action Group and A Voice for Leith Hill, the local councillor, Hazel Watson, and people in the area. (DrillOrDrop report)
The new application again seeks permission for 2m high security fencing and 3m high deer fencing, as well as an office and toilet at the site entrance, along with welfare accommodation, water and fuel tanks and a generator. It increases the footprint of the whole development by about a third.
The inspector who granted the original drilling permission said there should be no additional fencing or buildings.
Leith Hill Action Group has called for this application to be incorporated into the drilling application. The group’s most recent newsletter said:
“We think that this insistence on continuing to treat the applications for the original site and the enlarged site (to include the security fencing and facilities) as separate applications risks never admitting to the true size of the site and the extent of the impacts. Why are they insisting that they are separate and “free-standing” applications? Because the 2015 permission has a condition that explicitly forbids any additional buildings or fencing beyond those then approved.
“The rational thing to do would be to let the present permission lapse and make a fresh, comprehensive application which is honest about the true size and duration of the whole development – and includes a workable Traffic Management Plan as an integral part of it, not an afterthought.”
The final application – 2018/0094 – seeks to extend permission for three years for an underground drilling corridor. The current permission expires on 25 September 2018. Surrey County Council said there were no other changes to this application from the original granted in September 2015. (DrillOrDrop report)