UKOG’s proposed gas drilling site near Dunsfold in Surrey would have “direct adverse impacts” on a “highly valued landscape”, a public inquiry heard today.
Surrey county council was giving evidence about the impact of the proposed site on the surrounding area.
The council refused planning permission in November 2020. Its landscape expert told the inquiry this afternoon the scheme breached local and national planning policy.
Yesterday, UKOG’s landscape witness argued the proposed site was not in a valued landscape.
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- UKOG’s scheme is contrary to local and national policy
- The proposed site is in a highly valued landscape
- There are likely to be “direct adverse impacts”
- Notable loss and alteration of key landscape features is expected
- The proposal is out of scale, uncharacteristic and not in keeping with the built environment
- It will disrupt the Low Weald rural landscape
- Hedgerows which would be removed would take 5-10 years to re-establish
- UKOG has not demonstrated there would be no significant impacts
Jenny Wigley QC, for Surrey County Council, introduces the council’s landscape witness, Liz Brown, of the consultancy, Atkins.
Mrs Brown says she has reviewed all the documents and has visited the proposed UKOG site four times.
She says she has also visited viewpoints identified by the company and the neighbouring properties, High Billinghurst Farm and Thatched House Farm. The visits were at night and during the day.
She says Thatched House Farm is very peaceful. At dusk, she says she heard an owl and saw bats. At night at High Billinghurst Farm, she says could see no lights apart from those at a house on Hascombe Hill.
Impact of the development
Liz Brown says:
“I consider that the appeal site would result in landscape and visual impacts that would be contrary to local and national policy”.
The site would cause five changes to the area, she says.
Traditional mixed farming practice. This would have an impact on the intrinsic scenic quality and enjoyment of the countryside in the Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV), which includes the proposed site. This would be due to activity during the day and at night on Dunsfold Road, Pratts Corner and High Loxley Road, and across farmland and within the drill area, detracting from the tranquil character and level of darkness in this location.
Scale of development contrasting with the local built environment. The site would introduce industrial elements which are uncharacteristic of the AGLV or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There would be inappropriate structures, some higher than trees and existing buildings, that would affect views in the AGLV and to and from the AONB. These include:
- Large-scale earthworks to level the site, changing the site by up to 2m.
- Fences up to 4m high
- 38m drilling rig, 25m coil tubing unit9m mobile lighting towers, two 12m shrouded flares
Appearance and character of High Loxley Road:
- New junction on narrow country lane with carriageway widening, strengthening and temporary traffic management measures.
- Clearance of 55m of existing hedgerow and two trees, levelling of sloping verge and widening of 2.6-3.1m wide single-track road.
- 24m-wide and 2.5m-high entrance gates
- Hardstanding between the site entrance and start of the access track, up to 8 metres wide bordered by a 2.46m high fence
- Type and number of vehicles accessing High Loxley Road including wider load multiple articulated vehicles.
Appearance and character of farmland:
- New 4.1m access track with three passing bays up to 6.1m wide.
- Regular HGV and other traffic using the access track
Rural character of Dunsfold Road at Pratts Corner and the northern end of High Loxley Road. This is because of carriageway widening to accommodate the required vehicles and sightlines. This would be further exacerbated by the appearance of ‘visual clutter’ on this junction.
“Loss of features and changed views”
Mrs Brown says her assessments showed that the UKOG scheme will lead to a loss of notable features, through loss of land for the site and the access, as well as loss of hedgerow.
She wanted to ensure the inquiry had an adequate of landscape and visual effects, she says. She has identified more residential receptors that would be affected by the scheme than the five identified by UKOG. One of the UKOG receptors, Thatched House Farm, is actually a group of properties, she says.
She says another home, known as the Raswell, on Hascombe Hill, has open views over the proposed UKOG site. This view is shown on the council’s zone of theoretical visibility (ZTV). But it is not on the ZTV produced by the company, she says.
Mrs Brown says a ZTV is a tool to identify potential viewpoints that would then be validated on the grounds. She says she doesn’t use ZTV’s to assess impact because they do not indicate the magnitude of change.
Mrs Brown says the rig would be visible above the Burchetts woodland, which partially surrounds the proposed site. If the woodlands were felled, more of the infrastructure would be visible, she says.
She alleges that one of UKOG’s visualisations may not have been drawn accurately. She says the rig may be too low and could be in the wrong place. It doesn’t change the level of assessment on the landscape but she describes this as a “bit of a health warning”.
Tree planting and restoration
Mrs Brown says the reinstatement of the 60m of removed hedgerow along High Loxley Road would take about 5-10 years after the end of the development.
On tree planting on the northern boundary, Mrs Brown says larger trees take longer to establish and to grow.
Why the council argues it is high-quality landscape
Mrs Brown says undulating landscape, woodland blocks, small farmsteads, narrow lanes and small areas of farmland are characteristic of the area. There is a strong sense of enclosure, she says, creating an intimate and tranquil landscape, she says. The woodland creates a buffer with Dunsfold Aerodrome to the south.
The aerodrome, caravan park and solar farm have very little influence on the features of the area of the UKOG proposed site, Mrs Brown says.
She picks out High Loxley Road as a scenic feature because of its sunken lane, hedgerows, woodland borders. There are historic buildings on the lane that date back to the 16th and 17th century, she says. There is small-scale business use that is complementary, rather than in conflict to the landscape, she adds.
Trees have been cleared along Dunsfold Road and this has enhanced the views and perception of the landscape of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
On rare features, Mrs Brown says the public rights of way link Dunsfold with Cranleigh and provide rare views to Hascombe Hill.
On conservation interest, Mrs Brown says there is ancient woodland, scattered homestead, narrow winding rural lanes, county sites of archaeological importance.
The area has recreation value with rights of way. High Loxley Road also links with bridleways, she says.
On perception of the landscape, Mrs Brown says this is about tranquillity and wildness. It is a tranquil landscape, she says. You do experience bird song and there is limited traffic on High Loxley Road.
“UKOG does not demonstrate no significant impact”
Mrs Brown concludes:
“The Appellant [UKOG] has not provided sufficient information to demonstrate that there would be no ‘significant adverse impact on the appearance, quality and character of the landscape and any features that contribute towards its distinctiveness’.
“I also have concluded that it is unlikely that there is any further information that would be capable of demonstrating that there would be no significant adverse effects on the landscape given the nature of the development and its location.”
She says the proposal contravenes national and local policy because:
- The appeal site and surrounding landscape is in a highly valued landscape. It has key characteristics and features that contribute to the scenic quality, and are important to conserve.
- Direct and indirect adverse impacts are likely to be significant on these key characteristics. There is “very limited scope for mitigation” during the three-year application period. Restoration would need to be “substantial” to reinstate the existing condition.
- Notable loss and alteration of existing key characteristics and features to accommodate the scale of built elements of the appeal site. This would detract from the scenic quality of the Area of Great Landscape Value and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There would be adverse impacts on landscape and views and on visual amenity and a loss of scenic quality.
- The proposal is out of scale, uncharacteristic, and not in keeping with the existing built environment. The rig would measure up to 42m, compared with trees of up to 18m and buildings of 6-9m.
- Disturbance and disruption to the Low Weald rural landscape. This would result from changes in characteristic land use activities, increased traffic movements across farmland and incongruous vertical structures. This would adversely affect views from strategically important viewpoint on Hascombe Hill.
- Loss of existing hedgerow, trees and verge from the proposed new junction on High Loxley Road. This is “an important and distinct feature” and substantial restoration would be needed, taking up to 5-10 years to re-establish.
- The inquiry resumes at 9.30am on Thursday 29 July when Mrs Brown will be cross-examined by David Elvin QC for UKOG