This post has news updates from the afternoon of the opening day of the public inquiry into plans by UK Oil & Gas plc to drill exploratory gas wells near the village of Dunsfold in Surrey.
The county council refused planning permission for the site, known as Loxley, in November 2020. The council said it would have unacceptable impact
This is not a verbatim report. Please let us know about any mistakes or misinterpretation.
3.15pm Timetable update
The inspector, Mike Robins, says he cross-examination of UKOG’s landscape witness will begin tomorrow.
He says statements are going onto the Surrey County Council inquiry website. The agreed timetable will be added to the website.
The inquiry adjourns until 9.30am on Wednesday 28 July 2021.
2pm: UKOG landscape evidence – Will Gardner
David Elvin QC for UKOG introduces his landscape witness, Will Gardner, of the consultancy, Environmental Dimension Partnership.
Mr Gardner says the proposed drilling site cannot not be considered “valued landscape”. He says:
“All landscape possesses inherent value, but it is clear this is not the same as possessing landscape value worthy of the ‘protect and enhance’ status.
“It would be inappropriate and (from a planning perspective) impractical to conclude that the appeal site is part of a valued landscape simply by virtue of its being within the setting of the AONB.”
He says an assessment of the site’s value had been undertaken. He says:
“there is no basis to afford the appeal site the elevated status of being or forming part of a valued landscape”.
“Short-term adverse effects”
On the effects of the wellsite, he says:
“There would be short term adverse effects on the landscape characteristics of the appeal site; however, these would be limited to a geographically discrete area given the relatively low level change arising from the removal of a section of hedgerow at the access track junction with High Loxley Road, introduction of security gates and fencing, and the change from agricultural land to compacted hard core for the track and Well site.”
He said the long-term effects on the landscape would be neutral:
“At the end of the development operation and following dismantling and removal of equipment and materials, the agricultural land and removed sections of hedgerow would be restored and enhanced. The residual effect of the development would be at worst case neutral.”
On nearby woodland, Mr Gardner said the landscape assessment assumed there was no woodland because it could be felled.
Impact on local visual amenity
Mr Gardner says
“This is a very contained site in terms of the wider effects of the proposals on visual amenity. The potential effects have been studied carefully and viewpoints/modelling locations agreed with relevant consultees. 6.8 Analysis shows that there will be no significant changes to visual amenity from the wider countryside to the north, from which the primacy of the AONB will remain unaffected.”
Effects on Surrey Hills AONB
Mr Gardner says:
“The site lies in close proximity to the Surrey Hills AONB, thus lying within the setting of the AONB. The proposed development would not have any direct effects upon the nationally designated landscape.
“the proposed development would have limited effects on the landscape character of the ‘Grafham to Dunsfold Wooded Low Weald’ LCA setting of the AONB, and its perception in views out from the AONB. The majority of views from the AONB would not be impacted by the proposed development.”
“Visual analysis has determined that the incidence of woodland blocks, combined with a relatively low-lying site, undulating topography and Hascombe Hill to the north, create partial containment and therefore limit the extent to which effects would impact upon selected visual receptors.
“The potential for the greatest adverse effects is on users of the local PRoW to the south of, and in close proximity to, the Well site and part of the access track. Effects upon High Loxley Road, a quiet rural road accessing farmsteads, would be limited by its meandering alignment, gently undulating landscape and tree and hedgerows lining the road.”
Mr Elvin asks about a landscape assessment by the AONB planning advisor, Clive Smith. Mr Gardner says Mr Smith concluded that the impact would not be sufficiently adverse to be significant.
Mr Smith said it was hard to justify refusal of UKOG’s application on landscape grounds, Mr Gardner says. Mr Gardner also says Surrey County Council’s landscape consultant agreed with this.
Mr Gardner says the most important issues that should be considered when deciding a planning application are the long-term residual effects.
He says the UKOG application is for three years and for long periods there is no activity.
Mr Gardner says permanent irreversible landscape effects would be significant, or if there was a complete loss of a baseline situation.
There are no significant landscape effects of the UKOG application, he says.
Mr Garner disputes that it would take five years to achieve a neutral impact.
Mr Gardner defends the accuracy of the visualisation montages submitted by UKOG and the methodology of the landscape and visual impact assessments.
He also defends his Zones of Theoretical Visibility (ZTVs). These are computer-generated tool to identify the likely extent of a development’s visibility.
UKOG and the council have disputed each others ZTVs, which produced different results.
Mr Gardner says his ZTVs show there would be limited views of the site from the edge of the AONB with nearby woodland in place. The council’s consultant over-predicted the impact, he says.He says the felling of trees from nearby woodland would not make the site more visible from the wedding venue at High Billingshurst Farm.
Night-time impacts and lighting
The council’s consultant has criticised the company for not undertaking a night-time assessment in its landscape and visual impact assessment.
Mr Gardner says a lighting impact assessment was carried out an submitted with the application.
He adds there would be a “discernible addition” to night-time light but this would be just for 18 weeks during drilling the first well, and more if a sidetrack were needed.
The council’s consultant questions the effectiveness of mitigation measures proposed by UKOG. Mr Gardner says these were introduced by the company in response to concerns from the council.
He says there was a commitment from the first phase to strengthen hedgerows to ensure biodiversity gains as soon as possible.
High Billinghurst Farm
Mr Gardner says topography effectively screened low level activity on the wellsite from nearby Billinghurst farm.
He says the proposed 4m site fencing would also filter low-level activity from the property.
Mr Gardner says the council’s consultant had not taken account of vegetation on the site boundary.
Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)
Mr Gardner says HGVs would not be using the site for the full three years of the proposal.
Evidence from the morning session of Day 1 is here