Officials have supported plans by UK Oil & Gas for a new drilling site near the village of Dunsfold in Surrey despite opposition from local people and councils.
A report published this evening has recommended the application be approved by the county council’s planning committee next week.
It acknowledged that the site is in a sensitive landscape and that the scheme would bring a “more industrialised feel” to the area. There would also be an adverse effect on local businesses.
But officials concluded said the impacts on the environment and local people would not be significant and would be outweighed by the need for oil and gas.
Their report said:
“Officers consider that there is a demonstrable need to maintain a stable and reliable supply of indigenous energy sources, including onshore oil and gas, into the future and that significant weight should be attributed to this aspect of the proposal which is considered to be in both the national and wider public interest.”
Concerns about “virtual” committee
Tonight’s publication of the report has surprised local people. They had not expected the decision would be made until the end of June.
Now the application will be decided at Surrey’s first virtual planning committee meeting, conducted online because of coronavirus restrictions, on 21 May.
DrillOrDrop understands councillors will not go on a site visit. Instead, they will be shown drone footage of the proposed site.
A spokesperson for the local campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, said:
“We are deeply unhappy about the absence of a site visit by councillors.
“We are also very unhappy about the lack of clarity on the proposals for public participation in the committee meeting.”
UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) is seeking planning permission to drill vertical and sidetrack wells on a 2.3ha farmland site, one mile from the village.
The wells would explore for gas in the Portland sandstone and oil in the deeper Kimmeridge limestone.
The site is just outside the Green Belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
It is part of an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).
The nearest home, Thatched House Farm, is 330m from the site. It supports a number of businesses and hosts an internationally-recognised cancer awareness festival each year.
Another property, High Billinghurst Farm, is a venue for weddings, funerals and other functions.
A traveller site and mobile home park are about 485m from the centre of the well site compound. A new settlement has also been approved for land nearby at Dunsfold Park.
UKOG’s application is for three years and would involve four phases of work:
- access and well site construction – 14 weeks
- drilling, testing and appraisal using a 38m high rig– 60 weeks
- plugging, abandonment and decommissioning – 5 weeks
- restoration – 5 weeks
The company has said the maximum number of movements by heavy goods vehicle would be 20 per day.
A 30m wide bell-mouth and 1km access track would connect the well site to a new junction onto High Loxley Road. 55 m of hedgerow and two trees would be removed. The carriageway at the junction of High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Road would be extended by up to 0.9m on all sides and strengthened to allow vehicles to turn into the site. There would also be road widening at Pratts corner.
An application for an alternative access route was withdrawn by UKOG in March 2020.
According to the report, a public consultation on the application produced 469 written representations and four petitions. 78% of comments (367) were against the scheme.
Waverley Borough Council and Dunsfold, Bramley, Alford, Witley and Cranleigh parish councils all objected, some of them strongly. Local groups, including Campaign to Protect Rural England, Waverley Friends of the Earth and Surrey Wildlife Trust have also objected.
The borough council objected on 17 separate grounds. The council was particularly concerned that predicted noise would be above background levels, especially at night.
Surrey Wildlife Trust objected to the impact on climate change, ecology and the natural environment.
Dunsfold Aerodrome said the application had not properly considered the existing and proposed uses at Dunsfold Park, including the current operational airfield.
The Surrey Hills AONB said the proposal would “would be a seriously incongruous feature in the Area of Great Landscape Value and compensation should be provided if mitigation is insufficient”.
Other concerns raised by the consultation included:
- Proposal is against government policy
- Errors and incomplete information in the application
- Lack of economic benefits
- Unacceptable impact on local amenity and businesses
- Landscape and visual impacts
- Noise, air quality, lighting
- Risk to highway safety at Pratts Corner junction and High Loxley/Dunsfold road junction
- Impact on ecology, archaeology, heritage and rights of way
- Clear felling on nearby woodland would expose the well
There were also calls for a restoration bond to ensure money was available to restore the site.
Just over a fifth of comments (102) supported the application. The main reasons given included:
- Economic benefits
- Reduced carbon footprint of domestically-produced oil and gas
- Low visual presence, noise and access
There was no objection from the Environment Agency, Natural England, Surrey Highway Authority, Surrey ecologist and countryside access team.
The county noise consultant was unable to provide technical advice because of a potential conflict of interest through involvement in another nearby site.
In this section, we report the officials’ conclusions about the impacts of the site. DrillOrDrop will report in the coming days on the responses of local people to how officials addressed these issues
Need for the development
The report concluded:
“the need for the proposal has been established, the development is in the national and wider public interest and that the location of the development has been justified in accordance with the development plan.”
“on balance, and as part of the transition to a low carbon future, the proposed development would not be in conflict with the climate change policy agenda or the aims of local planning policy on climate change.”
Highways, traffic and access
The application would generate up to 72 vehicle movements per day during the drilling, testing and appraisal phase, the report said. The movements would comprise 52 staff vehicles and light vans and 20 heavy goods vehicles.
The report said the county highways authority considered the application acceptable on highway safety, capacity and policy grounds. Traffic from the development would not have an unacceptable impact on highway safety, air quality, residential amenity, the environment, or the high network, the planners concluded.
Environment and amenity
The report concluded that the proposal was in a sensitive landscape and the impacts would be exacerbated by the clear-felling of woodland to the north and east.
The site would have an adverse impact on users of High Loxley Road because of access gates, security fences, the gatehouse, traffic signals, selective road widening and removal of trees and hedgerow. The introduction of heavy goods vehicles would bring “a more industrialised feel” to this part of the road, the report said.
But it said
“on balance the adverse impacts would be moderate rather than significant, and outweighed by other wider public benefits of the proposal.”
The report also acknowledged the site would have adverse impacts on existing businesses nearby but said “these are not considered to be significant in planning terms”.
Officials said they were satisfied that the impacts of emissions from vehicles and processes on site on people and wildlife were acceptable and would not create an unacceptable level of pollution.
The report accepted that the site would result in some adverse noise impacts for local homes and businesses. But is said the site could operate within recommended noise limits and would not cause significant adverse noise impacts.
Officers said they were satisfied that the site lighting would not have a significant adverse impact on local homes or wildlife.
Water and pollution
The report said assessments submitted with the application showed that the impacts on surface water and groundwater would be low, very low or none.
It also found that the application had demonstrated that there would not be significant adverse impacts on the use, quality and integrity of land, soil resources or land stability.
The report concluded that there would not be a significant adverse impact on ecology and biodiversity if planning conditions required the replacement of lost vegetation at the “earliest opportunity” and a net gain in biodiversity.
Archaeology and heritage
Surrey’s archaeological officer has said a programme of archaeological work should be required as a condition of any permission. The report concluded that the impact on listed buildings would be “less than substantial” and temporary harm would be “outweighed by other public benefits”.
The report concluded there would be no significant adverse impacts on public rights of way. They also said cumulative impacts from other local developments, including housing at Dunsfold Park, would not be significant.
The report recommended 33 conditions covering issues such as time limit for the permission, hours of operation, highways, noise, lighting, water pollution, wildlife and archaeology. No restoration bond is proposed. The report said:
“Officers do not consider that there are exceptional circumstances to warrant the need for a bond or security deposit.”
DrillOrDrop will report in the coming days on the responses of local people to the report