A public consultation on plans to drill for oil on the Isle of Wight has been poorly communicated, with inconsistencies and discrepancies, campaigners have argued.
There are four weeks left for people to comment on a planning application by UK Oil & Gas plc to drill near Arreton.
But opponents of the scheme have accused the Isle of Wight Council, which is running the consultation, of conflicting messages and information because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The local campaign group, rebranded Don’t Drill The Wight, launched its own information campaign on Saturday (28 June 2020).
It said adverts in the local paper on the planning application suggested there would be a three-week consultation, when the duration was five weeks. The advert also said people could look at documents at the council planning office, but this was not the case.
The council’s website also suggested the consultation had not started, the group said:
“This has really confused the issue. It is just not getting out to the public so we have decided to try to do their work for them.
“It is essential that as many Islanders as possible voice their objections during this consultation period, which ends only four weeks away on the 24th July. If oil and gas are found in commercial quantities we will be looking at the creeping industrialisation of the surrounding countryside and associated activities for the next 20 years or more.
“We must show the Isle of Wight Council through sheer numbers of objections that thousands of Islanders feel very strongly about the countryside and do not want UKOG to Drill the Wight.”
Two independent Isle of Wight councillors have called for the decision on the planning application by UK Oil & Gas to be postponed.
Cllr Karl Love told the OnTheWight website:
“I think this is a huge decision for our Island as a whole and not being able to have access to consultation materials and in the usual way of access means that many people may not be able to participate and have their views heard.
“This is a matter of democracy and inclusion for me, as we have seen democratic process on the Island diminish under this administration’s governance.
“The decision that is to be made will be used as a precedent for further applications where there might be drilling for oil or shale gas. It is therefore imperative that everybody be fully consulted given that there is little opportunity to have this issue debated in the chambers.”
Cllr John Medland said:
“I’m appalled that the public consultation is going ahead under current restrictions on public involvement.”
Concerns about drilling at Arreton have centred on traffic, noise, air quality, light pollution, visual intrusion, contamination and flood risks, subsidence and impact on wildlife and protected sites.
Steve Davis, from Don’t Drill the Wight, told BBC News, the application posed a risk of damage to the environment, wildlife and the island’s water supplies. He said:
“If any of our own water supplies were to become contaminated, however small that risk might be, it could put us in a very precarious situation.”
The Isle of Wight Labour Party has said if it ran the council it would make the island an exporter of renewable energy. Island Labour’s chair, Julian Critchley, told Island Echo:
“A Labour-led council would set up a local energy company, as Southampton did. Initially, this would focus on reducing bills for residents. But in the longer term, we would be looking to reinvest returns from that company into renewable energy generation. The Island should be exporting clean energy to the rest of the UK, and Islanders can all benefit from that.”
“The repeated attempts to drill for oil on the island are ridiculous. Not only do Islanders not want it, but the world can’t afford it. More to the point, with the renewable options we have which are currently untapped, it’s completely unnecessary.”