This post has live news updates on the vote over whether gas exploration should be allowed near the village of Dunsfold in Surrey.
County councillors meeting in “virtual session” have narrowly refused planning permission for the Loxley gas exploration site near Dunsfold in Surrey.
The vote was by six votes to five.
This was the second time the council had turned down the application by UK Oil & Gas to drill vertical and sidetrack wells at the Loxley site.
Local councils and 84% of responses to a public consultation objected to the application. They had concerns about the impact of the scheme on landscape, climate change, local businesses, air quality, light pollution, highway safety, noise, local ecology and heritage.
The proposed site is close to a wedding and events business and a farm which runs a campsite, craft brewery and a cancer-awareness festival. UKOG has said the wellsite could provide gas that would help the UK transition to a low carbon economy.
Planning officers have twice recommended the scheme should be approved.
These are news updates reported live and are not an official or verbatim report of the committee. Please let us know if you spot mistakes or feel we have misrepresented evidence.
The vote to refuse the application: six to five.
This is the same margin as the previous vote in June 2020.
2.59pm Statement from planning manager
Caroline Smith, the council’s planning manager, says a refusal must be backed by planning reasons supported by evidence.
She says council officers do no consider MC1 is not relevant.
She reads out policies MC14 on reducing the impact of mineral development and MC15 on transport issues.
Caroline Smith says officers are strongly of the view that the applicaiton should not be refused.
She says reasons for refusal could include that it has not been proved that the road network is suitable or the development would not have an adverse impact on highways safety, contrary to policy MC15
It ahs not been demonstrated for the mineral planning authority to be satisfied that the development would not have an adverse impact on the landscape, contrary to policy MC14.
Cllr Bernie Muir asks what happens to concerns about the economic impact of the development.
Cllr Hall says there is no planning reason for this.
2.58pm Statement from the committee chair
Cllr Tim Hall summarises the key issue on the application.
2.47pm Meeting resumes
The meeting breaks to agree the wording of the motion.
The meeting is due to resume at 2.45pm.
2.20pm Motion to oppose
Cllr Penny Rivers says significant adverse impacts could arise from the development.
“I have not heard any evidence that there will not be any significant adverse impacts from this development in conflict with local policies MC1, MC14 and MC15.”
Stephen Jenkins, planning development manager tells the committee there are many oil and gas sites in Surrey and there have been no problems from them. This is because oil and gas in the UK is heavily regulated, he says.
He says there have been no technical objections to the application. He says national policy says great weight should be given to mineral extraction and the benefits to the economy.
Cllr Andrew Povey, who seconded the motion, endorses the concerns about the impact on local businesses. He also says there is a “perfectly valid” reason to refuse the application on traffic and landscape reasons.
1.48pm More discussion
Cllr Povey says HGVs are not allowed to access the Dunsfold Park housing development on the section of road to the proposed site. This section of road is signed unsuitable for HGVs.
A council’s highway officer says the road has been assessed as suitable for HGVs. The signage is to discourage HGV traffic.
Impact on traveller community
Cllr Muir asks who came up with the assessment on the impact of the local gypsy, Romany and traveller community. Was the traveller community shown and given the chance to comment on the assessment findings, she asks. My understanding is that it was not, she says.
Cllr Muir asks if there is evidence that UKOG has not complied with transport management plans in Surrey.
She says extra HGVs should not be routed onto the proposed access road.
Impact on rural areas
Cllr Mallett says infrastructure projects are likely to be in rural areas.
He says most of the objections to the proposal are either purely emotional – not planning issues he says – or factually inaccurate.
Cllr Mallett says the application is for investigation. He says the risk is not taken by the council – it is taken by the applicant.
Oil and gas is not going to be shut off just because there is now a green agenda, he says.
He says the impact of the site on Dunsfold Park housing is happening all over the country. It is not unusual to have mines or extraction under property. Surrey is very short of housing, he says. Houses sell before the roof is on. I don’t think there could be any possible effect on housing, he says.
Impact on other businesses
Cllr Mallett says this is not a planning issue. He says the wedding business will not close, he says, if the wellsite is approved. He said:
“I am willing to place a £1,000 bet that the wedding business will still be running if this application is approved.”
There is also potentially a large logging business on the doorstep, he says.
You cannot build anything in this world without any landscape impact, Cllr Mallett says.
“The weight has to be on the national priority.”
Traffic and highways
Cllr Mallett says the roads are already used by heavy vehicles. Council highway officers have already given this scheme the all clear. You will not win before an inspector if the highways officers have approved it, he says.
Cllr Mallett says environmental issues will be managed by other regulators. He also says he cannot understand how the local traveller community would be affected.
Councillors must produce “real planning reasons” to refuse this.
“If we are going to refuse this, we need proper planning reasons. If we don’t have proper planning reasons, this council will face huge costs. If we are unsure, we will face huge costs.”
1.45am Meeting resumes
The meeting resumes at 1.45pm.
12.52pm More councillor discussion
Cllr Hussain asks why there are signs on the proposed route to the site which say it is unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles.
The council’s highways officer says the sign is advisory to discourage through-routing of HGVs.
Cllr Cooksey says he is concerned about the impact of heavy traffic on what he calls unsuitable roads. He says it would have been useful to have the traffic management plan at this stage, rather than after the decision.
Planning officer David Maxwell tells the committee the affected section of Dusnfold Road is suitable for heavy goods vehicles. On accident risk, he says the HGVs will be travelling “at pretty low speed”. It is a miniscule amount of HGV movements, he says from the proposed site.
The highways officer says there have not been HGV-related accidents on Dunsfold Road/High oxley Road There was no evidence of HGVs overrunning the road, he says. This makes us feel the road is suitable for HGVs.
Cllr Muir says the planning officer was wrong to say the weddng events business next to the proposed site had only inside events.
She says how much weight should be given to the demise of a local business. If we believe this is a significant risk to a local business, are we allowed to take this into acocunt.
Caroline Smith, the planning manager , says this is an application for a drilling rig. Local business will be impacted to a certain degree. She says it should be considered. I have no evidence in front of me that the application will result in businesses failing.
Cllr Muir says she is concerned about vague language in the officer’s report on when traffic lights will be needed. This needs to be quantified, she says.
A council highways officer tells the meeting there is a desire to minimise the use of traffic signals. The details would be set in the construction traffic management plan.
Cllr Muir asks how involved would the events management company be in traffic management.
The highways officers says UKOG would be required to liaise with the events management company.
Cllr Evans asks for confirmation that 23 sites have been looked before this one was chosen. He asks for more information tion onl measurable benefit against local harm.
Cllr Rivers says the committee has been shown there will be harm and planning policy allows it to be refused.
Cllr Lay says she says she has recently spent £54,000 on a wedding and she would not want to use a venue next to an oil rig.
Cllr Povey says he is concerned about the traffic risks. It is a very dangerous road. There have been a whole series of accidents on these corners. He says there is not footway and HGVs should not be encouraged on it. An alternate route is not reasonable, he says.
12.50pm Meeting resumes
The committee resumes at 12.50pm
11.48am Councillor questions
Cllr Povey says it is wrong to compare UKOG’s plans with an existing production site.
UKOG is proposing a 37m tower on a site in an area of great landscape value, he says. I cannot think of anything more stupid, he says. The council agreed that the AGLV should be treated in the same way as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, he says.
Planning officer David Maxwell says the application is for three years. The rig will not be on site for all of that time. He says the worst case is 24 weeks. You have to take account of screening by trees around the site, he says. You have to think of these mitigating circumstances, he says.
Mr Maxwell says the committee has to follow national planning policy.
Cllr Taylor says there is a modern oil and gas extraction site at Albury in his division. It is quite difficult to find, he says. All you can see is about the size as petrol station forecourt. Most residents aren’t aware of it, he says. Those that are, are not affected by it, he says. He has not received any complaints from local residents, he says.
He is sympathetic about concerns in Dunsfold. But he says the concerns are not based on what a modern site looks like.
Cllr Cooksey says the issue of the need for the site is very significant.
He asks how far advanced is the technology that would allow conversion of methane to hydrogen.
Cllr Evans asks “whether the game is worth the candle”. He says what can be produced from the site appears to be speculative. He asks for guidance on the potential scale of the gas that could be produced. Is the damage to the local community worth the effort, he asks.
Caroline Smith, the planning manager says great weight should be given to the benefits of mineral extraction.
Cllr Evans says he is trying to establish what the benefit of the site would be, in terms of gas, and its value. I don’t think the case has been made for the benefit.
Planning officer David Maxwell says the application is for exploration and appraisal to establish whether the resource can be commercially exploited.
Cllr Evans says there are other ways to establish the volume of the resource than drilling. Comments about the scale of the resource need to be backed up, he says.
David Maxwell says comments on the volume of gas are not part of the application. Government policy supports oil and gas development, he says. You don’t need estimates of the gas in the ground. The decision is about whether this is an acceptable use of the land.
Cllr Rivers says should gas be found it could be of benefit to the nation but she says the issue is the impact on the community – she asks for guidance on this.
She says local businesses are already affected by Covid-19. The committee should give great weight to the impact on local businesses.
Planning officer David Maxwell says financial impact on local businesses is not a planning issue. He says a cancer festival held on nearby land is one weekend a year and UKOG is aware of it. An informative advises UKOG to minimise disruption.
Cllr Rivers says climate change was happening. She says children are missing from the long list of objectors and teh committee should think about them.
Cllr Muir asks about the difference between grey and green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is from renewable energy, Caroline Smith says.
She also asks about UKOG investment in the local community. How would the local community get its hands on any benefits, she says. Would the company be required to use local suppliers?
High Billingshurst Farm brings millions of pounds directly and indirectly to the local community, she says. This is a business that can grow and grow, she says. I don’t see any economic benefit to the local community, she says.
I need to understand how they are benefitting the wider community and what are those jobs?
Planning officer David Maxwell says the council has not assessed statements made by UKOG on they gas resource. The issue of hydrogen is not part of the planning application, he says.
Mr Maxwell says planning conditions should be kept to a minimum, be enforceable . A condition on requiring use of local suppliers is not justified and could be challenged. He says there would be no HGV movements on Saturdays or Friday afternoons.
Cllr Muir says it is not satisfactory to assume that jobs would result from the UKOG site. A wedding business next to the site wants to expand and would create large numbers of jobs, she says. A high-end establishment does rely on its surroundings, she says.
Cllr Muir says she has voted for previous oil and gas applications. But she says the local economy is important to this area, particularly post-Covid. Other event organisers are getting requests for mid-week weddings because people are now working from home. It is create vast amounts of money and jobs. It shold be top of the agenda, she says.
Planning officer David Maxwell says planners can consider only issues that are put before them. He says mid-week weddings has not been raised as an issue.
Comparison with Albury gas site
Cllr Muir says the proposal is not comparable with the Albury site, where the gas is distributed by pipeline and is not near a local business.
The planning officer’s report does not have articulation about the nature and input of local business on the community and economy, she says.
11.45am Meeting resumes
The committee resumes at 11.45am.
11.23 am Planning officer David Maxwell
Mr Maxwell gives details of the proposal.
He says there would be up to 20 heavy goods vehicles per day. They would be limited to HGV access the site between 9am and 5pm Monday-Thursday and 9am-1pm on Fridays.
He says the oil and industry is “heavily regulated”. The control of emissions is the responsibility of other regulators. The committee must decide whether it is a good use of land.
Officers have shown there is a demonstrably need for the development, he says. There would be wider public benefit he says. There are no technical objections, he says.
Six local parish councils and amenity groups have objected. 84% of public submissions objected to the application, he says.
Mr Maxwell says there were late submissions to the council including a petition from the traveller community and Dunsfold Park.
He shows maps and images of the proposed site.
11.19am Victoria Young
Cllr Young is the local councillor for the area.
She says she is speaking on behalf of local residents, including those preparing to move into Dunsfold Garden Village.
This is not a rural backwater. It is a strong community that has been deeply affected by the proposals.
She is concerned that a local traveller community have still not been consulted about the proposal.
Cllr Young raises concerns about the industrial impact of the development and its affect on local roads.
Your job is to weigh up the pros and cons but the known harm is greater than any benefits might be.
11.05am Statement from UKOG
The chief executive of UK Oil & Gas says the oil and gas sites are visually unobtrusive. The environmental permit will ensure the local environment will remain unharmed.
New technology makes natural gas part of the UK net zero solution. It will be a feedstock to generate low carbon hydrogen. It is critical that the UK has good access to natural gas, Mr Sanderson says.
Gas also provides a key source of affordable energy before low carbon energy sources are in place.
Imports do not have the same security of supply and do not contribute to the economy. There is a demonstrably need for gas from Loxley, he says. It s peak gas supply could power around 200,000 a year. It could be a material contributor to the surrey economy.
The area’s rural economy can be allowed to adapt, rather than be preserved in aspic.
He reminds the committee to give great weight to the benefit of the proposal. Its economic contribution would be materially significant. The site selection has been sensitive. It’s impact would be temporary and reversible.
He urges councillors to be courageous and honest.
Mr Moore, UKOG’s planning agency, says gas was confirmed by drilling at Godley Bridge. The proposal
The applicant is willing to invest £6m in exploration. The council does not need to speculate about the gas resource – only coniseder wshether is a good use of land.
Exploration is a matter of national importance. It is described in policy as critical. We need gas now to keep the lights on in in the future. Any interruption of supply would be damaging.
Liquified natural gas we import has a 45% higher greenhouse gas content than local gas, he says.
Sites like Loxley would clean up our gas production. Gas is critical to our current and future prosperity, he says.
No HGV movements would be allowed on Friday afternoons. signage would prevent use of narrow rural roads, he says.
Given the economic emergency in the UK, the prospect of other investments in the rural economy look slim, he says.
The applicant is prepared to consider other conditions if necessary.
Loxley would be symnpathetically managed, he says. UK gas is the greenest and the cheapest gas. It makes no sense to keep shipping it in from abroad.
We can have our cake and eat it, he says.
11.01am Statement from landowner in favour of the application
Mr Ward farms at High Loxley and owns the proposed well site. He says he considers his farm as a cornerstone of the local economy.
Initiatives on the farm include planting new hedges and increasing soil organic matter, he says.
UKOG is embracing a hydrogen future and carbon capture and storage, he says. We should be encouraging this.
The road to High Loxley are suitable for heavy goods vehicles, he says. This site is not going to destroy local buysinesses. I have worked with UKOG for over threeyears. They are supporting my bsuinesses.
No other diversification would bring in so much money on his land, he says. UKOG is not a threat, that is claimed, he says. This application should be approved.
10.43am Statements from local people against the application
Mr Gray says:
“The application site, on the edge of the Surrey AONB, is not strategic, offers very speculative volumes and will not balance the harm caused by these wells. The site is not well located, no new data has been generated to justify the volume claims made by UKOG .”
He refers to comments by Dr Richard Seaborne, a retired oil and gas professional, who questions the likely resource of gas at Dunsfold. The company has said the site could access the second largest onshore UK gas accumulation. But Dr Seaborne said: “This assertion lacks supporting evidence in the form of public access to the Xodus report referred to.”
Mr Gray says:
“UKOG claim the investment of £6m over the three-year period, will benefit the community, which in the absence of evidence, I contend will be mostly spent with specialised contractors outside surrey.
“As against the impact on the two local businesses whose loss will impact for many years and conservatively will be 2-3 times the UKOG investment. Both local businesses have figures available to support this statement, however the officer has not included an impact assessment in his report.”
Mr Gray says yhe application site overlooks the Dunsfold garden village of 1,800 houses, around 4,000 new residents. The success of this site, he says, is critical to the Waverley Local Plan and the need to show a five-year housing supply. Any impact to the building out of this site will impact on the whole of Waverley and the success of the garden village with its many green credentials. he says..
“This application if approved will damage the local businesses, expose local residents to the impact from 24 hour operation of the well, will impose an industrial structure at the edge of the AONB and risk the success of, and impact the residents, of the development at Dunsfold Park.”
Mr Britton says he lives 900m east of the site. He says:
“I wish to represent the huge number of local people directly threatened by the oil well’s impact whose voices continue to be ‘airbrushed out’ both in scale and significance”
He says a community with protected characteristics, which submitted a petition of 140 signatures, has “at no point been directly consulted by the County Council”.
About 400 people live within 500m of the site, soon to be joined by thousands more at Dunsfold Garden Village, Mr Britton says.
The “opposition is deafening”, he says.
“yet the Officers Report dismisses all concerns of harm, preferring to trust the word of the applicant.”
The response by officers has been dismissive on concerns about road safety fears on High Loxley Lane.
“Over several months despite being given factual evidence exposing flaws in the applicant’s plans for accessibility, and questioning the use of banksmen to control HGVs at the 4-arm blind junction at Pratts Corner, the Council still has not updated its 2018 Road Safety Audit. The blind bends on the B2130 will force HGVs into the path of oncoming traffic, but Officers say these bends ‘can be safely negotiated’. They contend it’s acceptable to put off traffic matters until later. Facts show this to be a false and unsound premise.”
Mr Britton says this is not the first time the council has been misled by UKOG on traffic issues. He refers to a breach in the Horse Hill traffic management plan in October 2020.
Surrey County Council’s policy MC15 requires members to satisfy themselves that the highway network is of an appropriate standard for use by traffic generated by the development, Mr Britton says. If the network is deficient then the council should have “proposals for suitable improvement. He says:
“yet you have seen no firm proposals to mitigate these very real risks.”
He says a proposal to use banksmen should have been subject to a full road safety audit.
“Members, you cannot take this gamble. You should refuse this application on the grounds of both Policy MC12 and MC15 because ‘vehicular activity and vehicle routeing’ have not been properly addressed and there will be significant adverse impacts on ‘highway safety, residential amenity, the environment and the effective operation of the highway network’.”
Mr Herman says the hydrocarbon well site is in the heart of the community. It is near three barns, as well as a traveller site.360 people live within 300 metres. His home is 230m away.
He says his camp site is 100m away from the wellsite. He employs 12 full and 42 parttime people in a craft brewery, with sales of about £1m.
He has diversified his farm, he says, in line with local planning policy.
Trew Field, a cancer awareness festival, will become untenable if the application is approved.
The Surrey mineral plan advises if there are adverse developments on people and the environment the application should be refused, he says.
Fear of appeal is no valid reason not to refuse, he says.
Consent to this wellsite will cripple two businesses with combined income of £4.,5m
Mr Gordon runs a wedding venue business 200m from the boundary of the site. He says the noise, light and odour will be relentless. He says widening High Loxley Road will threaten the rural environment.
Our rural setting will be ruined, having a devastating impact on our livelihood and business.
His business invests £4m a year in the local economy, he says.
Venues as unique as ours are few and far between. His business
Many other businesses would be impacted locally. The adverse impacts outweight the benefits.
Sarah Godwin says she has lived in Dunsfold for 27 years.
She says the revised report by planning officers
“fails to give due consideration to issues raised [since the last meeting], which demonstrate the significant adverse impact on our environment and amenities without a balance of positive benefits.”
She says the clean, safe and green community of Dunsfold and surroundings – a Surrey County Council objective – will change if the “industrialised drill site is permitted.”
If the application is allowed, “large tankers will be turning into a narrow rural lane on a dangerous blind corner, already infamous locally for frequent accidents”, she says, against another objective for easier, predictable and safer journeys.
The council also seeks to help businesses thrive. But she says:
“the immediate adverse impact will be at demonstrable cost to three existing local businesses adjacent to the site; these are real costs, with a real risk of being jeopardised by the development.”
The Dunsfold Park Garden Village would also be “literally undermined” by the lateral shaft drilled underneath it.
Ms Godwin says:
“The applicant suggests we’ll see benefits to the local economy, but it’s unlikely during 3 years exploratory drilling; there’s no guarantee of future production therefore no guarantee of benefits.”
“UKOG has failed to offer a convincing explanation for how the Loxley scheme would benefit the climate crisis; hydrogen is a buzz word but conversion of any gas found there would only produce GREY hydrogen, not clean green hydrogen.”
Ms Godwin urges the committee to refuse the applicaitonL
“Such a speculative and potentially damaging drilling operation is neither justifiable, nor in line with planning policy, nor appropriate in 2020.”
10.36 am Legal position
The committee’s lawyer tells the meeting that the previous resolution was declared unlawful after complaints from the applicant and its supporters and a review by a barrister.
The council was concerned that some members voted who had not been present throughout the whole of the meeting, against the regulations.
The council’s barrister said the committee could rescind the decision and redetermine the application.
The committee’s lawyer reminds members about their responsibility on pre-determination, keep an open mind and be prepared to change their mind.
On lobbying, the lawyer says councillors must not favour any person, company, group or locality.
If councillors go against the advice of planning officers, the chair must summarise the issues before a vote.
10.30am Meeting begins
Chair of the meeting, Cllr Tim Hall, opens the meeting.
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