The planning decision due this week on proposals to drill for oil and gas near the village of Dunsfold in Surrey has been deferred.
The county council had listed the application by UK Oil & Gas for its first virtual planning committee, to be conducted online on Thursday (21 May 2020).
But DrillOrDrop heard this afternoon that the decision will now be postponed until June.
A spokesperson for Surrey County Council this was because “of procedural issues on the regulations on meetings”. The spokesperson explained that people have to be able to inspect physical documents at planning offices and this had not been possible because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The local campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, and Waverley Borough Council had already called for a deferral of the decision.
One of their key arguments was that members of Surrey’s planning committee had not been able to go on a visit to the proposed site because of Covid-19.
The Surrey County Council spokesperson said there was no requirement in planning law to hold a site visit.
But Steve Williamson, portfolio holder for the environment on Waverley Borough Council, told DrillOrDrop:
“It is inappropriate that the application should be discussed by the committee at this point. The committee had previously judged it essential that prior to making a decision that members have a site visit.
“This has not taken place because of Covid-19 pandemic.”
Drone footage of the site had been posted on the Surrey County Council website but Cllr Williamson said this was no replacement for a site visit. He said:
“The highways issues [on this application] are quite subtle and there were disputes over the accuracy of UKOG’s measurements on the proximity of the site to local businesses, homes and the traveller site.
“It is important members should have first hand knowledge of the site and see the site before they make a decision.”
County council officials had recommendedthat the application be approved but Waverley Borough Council, a statutory consultee on the application, had strongly opposed it.
Cllr Williamson said it ran “completely counter to our climate emergency action plan, as well as that of Surrey County Council”.
“At this point it is premature for the committee to be discussing the application.”
A spokesperson for Protect Dunsfold said:
“The impression from the drone footage is completely different from what you are going to get if you are on the ground.
“It does not cover the highway safety aspects which are central to this application.”
Opponents of the scheme have criticised the lorry route to the site. It would need to go through Pratts Corner, a difficult junction between Dunsfold Road, High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Common.
The Protect Dunsfold spokesperson said concerns about how construction traffic would be managed had also not been resolved.
The current proposals would require traffic lights controlling access from four directions, for what could be 90 of the 156 weeks of the proposed development, the spokesperson said. This could result in delays of up to 15 minutes in one direction.
The group predicted a single-track road could become an unsuitable rat run and the north exit from the village could be blighted unless traffic controls were removed outside operational hours.
There were also concerns that the controls could remain in place for 30 years if the Dunsfold became an oil or gas production site.
The planners had also not addressed the prospect of abnormal loads delivering to the site grounding on the road, the spokesperson added.
- Cllr Williamson has been refused the right to speak to the virtual committee on Thursday. Surrey County Council told him he did not qualify as a speaker because he submitted an objection on behalf of Waverley Borough Council on council headed paper. Only individuals were permitted to participate in the meeting, he was told.