Regulation

News updates: Loxley/Dunsfold drilling inquiry – Day 2 UKOG landscape evidence

This post has news updates from the second morning of the public inquiry into plans by UK Oil & Gas plc to drill exploratory gas wells near the village of Dunsfold in Surrey.

The company is appealing against the refusal of its planning application in November 2020 on landscape and highways grounds.

This morning, the inquiry hears more landscape evidence from UKOG. This afternoon, Surrey County Council’s landscape witness takes the stand.

You can see key points and links to documents and daily reports on our Loxley/Dunsfold inquiry page

This is not a verbatim report. Please contact us about any mistakes or misinterpretation

Looking south from Hascombe Hill in the Surrey Hills AONB.
Photo: Martin Thomas. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 licence

9.30am Inquiry resumes

The inquiry discusses online documents and the programme


9.40am Cross-examination of UKOG landscape witness

Jenny Wigley QC and Will Gardner

Jenny Wigley QC, for Surrey County Council, begins her cross-examination of UKOG’s landscape witness, Will Gardner. 

She puts it to him that Dunsfold Aerodrome is not a factor in assessing the proposed UKOG drilling site. Mr Gardner says you are aware of the noise but not the sight of the aerodrome from UKOG’s proposed site.

National policy on Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Ms Wigley and Mr Gardner agree that a review could lead to an extension to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but this has not yet begun.

Mr Gardner accepts that the appeal site is within the setting of the AONB. He also accepts there are strategically important views from Hascombe Hill in the AONB.

Government guidance in the National Planning (NPPG) says poorly located development can cause harm to the setting of an AONB, Ms Wigley says.

She says the landscape character of the appeal site area shares characteristics with the AONB.

Ms Wigley turns to new advice in the National Planning Policy Framework which says on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

“The scale and extent of development within all these designated areas should be limited, while development within their setting should be sensitively located and designed to avoid or minimise adverse impacts on the designated areas.”

Mr Gardner agrees.

Development Plan

Ms Wigley quotes policy in the 2018 local development plan on landscape quality. They say:

Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The protection and enhancement of the character and qualities of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that is of national importance will be a priority and will include the application of national planning policies together with the Surrey Hills AONB Management Plan. The setting of the AONB will be protected where development outside its boundaries harm public views from or into the AONB.

The Area of Great Landscape Value

The same principles for protecting the AONB will apply in the Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV), which will be retained for its own sake and as a buffer to the AONB, until there is a review of the Surrey Hills AONB boundary, whilst recognising that the protection of the AGLV is commensurate with its status as a local landscape designation.

The site area remains in the AGLV and subject to its policy in the development plans, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner agrees.

Ms Wigley says the development plan treats the whole of the AGLV in the same way. Mr Gardner says some parts of the AGLV have been designated for housing.

Ms Wigley says the appeal site remains in the AGLV and all the AGLV should be treated the same.

Mr Gardner accepts this.

AONB management plan

Ms Wigley quotes from the management plan of the AONB about the importance of the AGLV:

“These areas have acted as a buffer to the AONB but they also have their own inherent landscape quality and are significant in conserving the landscape setting of some towns and villages. Although AGLV land is not a national designation, previous Surrey Hills AONB Management Plans recognised the importance of AGLV land in protecting the integrity of the Surrey Hills AONB landscape, particularly views to and from the AONB.”

Mr Gardner accepts this.

On the characteristics of the Surrey Hills AONB, Ms Wigley says these include views, tranquillity, country lanes and dark sky.

Ms Wigley puts it to Mr Gardner that High Loxley Lane is a country lane. He agrees.

Mr Gardner accepts that oil, gas and fracking are acknowledged in the management plan as a threat to the AONB

The management plan has a policies on development:

“Development will respect the special landscape character of the locality, giving particular attention to potential impacts on ridgelines, public views and tranquillity.”

Mr Gardner accepts this.

The management plan aims to raise awareness of the impact of traffic on the AONB. Mr Gardner says this applies to the AONB. Ms Wigley says Dunsfold Road is on the boundary of the AONB.

She points to a policy which says:

“The impact of development proposals on the surrounding Surrey Hills road network, including any highway mitigation measures, will be given great weight when assessing the acceptability of the development.”

This applies to the setting of the AONB, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner agrees.

Valued landscapes

Mr Gardner says a landscape does not have to be in an AONB or Area of Great Landscape Value to be valued. He also agrees that it does not have to be locally designated to be of value.

Ms Wigley suggests that identification in a local plan indicates that a landscape is valued. Mr Gardner agrees.

Landscape that forms part of a setting of an AONB is capable of making it a valued landscape, Ms Wigley says. Not in its own right, Mr Gardner says.

Mr Gardner has relied on a court case (Stroud District Council v v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Gladman Developments Limited) to defend his arguments.

Ms Wigley says the situation in the court case does not apply to Dunsfold. The UKOG site is in a landscape designation, unlike the site in the court case, she says. Mr Gardner says value and designation are not the same thing. He says being in the setting is not enough to be a valued landscape.

Ms Wigley says this is not the correct interpretation of the court case. She says the court decision did not say the setting did not make a landscape valued. Mr Gardner says the judge did not say that setting itself was sufficient.

Ms Wigley says views into and out of the AONB are important for the AONB. They could make a landscape valued, she says. Mr Gardner questions this.

Ms Wigley says local designation, setting and being part of a valued view from the AONB can make a landscape valued. Mr Gardner says they can contribute to valued landscapes.

Landscape guidance

Ms Wigley refers to technical guidance on factors contributing to landscape value.

These include evidence of recreational use and part of a view important for recreation, wildness, tranquillity, dark skies, absence of intrusive development. Links to a designated landscape are also included.

The setting of the AONB is a factor in value, Ms Wigley says. Not in its own right, says Mr Gardner

There is no rule saying setting does not make it valuable, Ms Wigley suggests. No, says Mr Gardner.

The guidance says:

“When assessing landscape value of a site as part of a planning application or appeal it is important to consider not only the site itself and its features/elements/characteristics/qualities, but also their relationship with, and the role they play within, the site’s context. Value is best appreciated at the scale at which a landscape is perceived – rarely is this on a field-by-field basis.”

Ms Wigley says sites should be assessed in the landscape context. Mr Gardner agrees.

UKOG landscape assessment

Ms Wigley asks Mr Gardner about his judgement on the site’s quality.

UKOG’s landscape assessment said there were detractors, which included caravan site, solar farm and aerodrome. These are not visible from the appeal site, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner says they are part of the wider landscape.

Mr Gardner argues that the site has no rare features. Ms Wigley says High Loxley Road is a rare rural lane. Mr Gardner disagrees. It is not a through road and has increased value, she says.

Mr Gardner argues that the site does not contain any features considered to be exemplars of the host landscape.

On conservation interest, he argues that the only known cultural associations relate to the agricultural land use. This is clearly not true, Ms Wigley says. The listed local buildings should have been included, she says. They should have been noted, he concedes.

On archaeological interests of the site, Ms Wigley says there are two county sites of archaeological interest nearby. These should have been included in a the assessment of value, Ms Wigley says. They should have been noted, Mr Gardner concedes.

Ms Wigley says Mr Gardner has downplayed recreational routes. Mr Gardner denies this.

Tree felling and impact on views

The inquiry is considering the impact of the proposed drilling site on the landscape of felling a woodland area known as the Burchetts that partly surrounds the site. The licence for clear felling runs until 2024.

UKOG’s landscape assessment concluded:

“Views into the proposed Well Site would also be unlikely to be obtained from lower lying areas within the AONB due to the enclosure of the proposed Well Site by The Burchetts woodland to the north.”

Mr Gardner accepts that the landscape assessment relies on the role of the Burchetts to screen the site from the AONB.

The UKOG landscape scenario assumes a worst-case scenario but it includes only summer photos, Ms Wigley says. She asks Mr Gardner where this lack of worst-case photos have been taken into account. It is a matter of professional judge, he says. There is no explanation of this in the assessment, she says. No Mr Gardner agrees.

Ms Wigley says the presence of the Burchetts is key in diminishing views from the AONB, she says. Yes Mr Gardner says. And we accept the corollary of that if they [the Burchetts] go, she says.

The role of the Burchetts is included in the assessment’s conclusion, Mr Gardner agrees.

Ms Wigley says woodlands have a role in filtering or screening the view of the appeal site from footpaths. Mr Gardner agrees. He accepts that if the woodland were felled a lot of the screening would go.

Landscape assessment conclusion

Mr Gardner confirms that UKOG’s landscape assessment was written before the felling licence for the Burchetts was approved. But the assessment argues that the clear felling would not affect screening. How is this possible, Ms Wigley asks.

Mr Gardner concedes there would be more of the site visible if the woodland were felled but this would not affect the conclusion of the assessment, he says.

Impact on Thatched House Farm

The assessment does not mention the effect of removing the Burchetts woodland on Thatched House Farm, Ms Wigley suggests. Mr Gardner agrees.

This is an material omission, Ms Wigley says. You should have done an assessment of those effects, she says. Mr Gardner says the key issue was to assess the effects on public landscape, rather than a private house. He concedes there would be a greater impact of the site on Thatched House Farm.

Mature trees

Mr Gardner accepts that mature trees would have a filtering effect on the site.

Ms Wigley says many of these are ash trees that are suffering from ash die back and will need to be replaced.

Mr Gardner accepts there is some evidence of decline and gaps in the understorey in nearby woodland. It is hard to know how long the ash trees will survive.

Ms Wigley says the mitigation would seek to strengthen the screening effect of the boundary with tree planting. You will not get any material screening from trees within five-10 years, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner says there would be no effect within the three years of the application.

Site identification

Ms Wigley refers to UKOG’s site identification report, which describes how the Loxley/Dunsfold site was chosen.

Mr Gardner says his team did not have any role in this report. He says he is not aware of input from a landscape expert in the report.

Ms Wigley says there are no comparisons of the potentional sites from a landscape perspective. Mr Gardner agrees.

The site report lists 23 prospective sites. Six were taken forward for further work, the inquiry hears.

The report says the role of the Burchetts was material in the selection of the Loxley site, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner says he was not involved but he agrees about the role of the Burchetts woodland.

Surrey Hills AONB response to the application

Ms Wigley refers to the Surrey Hills AONB response to the planning application. It says:

“the proposed development would be a seriously incongruous visual feature in the AGLV and that harm would be compounded by the activity associated with the development.”

Ms Wigley puts it to Mr Gardner that the development is “incongruous”. Mr Gardner says this is language that he would not use. He says the description depends on where the site would be viewed from and how it would be judged.

He accepts that a drilling site would not be expected if you walked along the public right of way.

Zones of theoretical visibility

Ms Wigley says these assessments, known as ZTVs, have their limitations. Mr Gardner agrees.

Neither UKOG’s nor the council’s ZTVs show the view of the site from Hascombe Hill.

Mr Gardner says they are a useful tool for selecting viewpoints but if you over-relied on them you would miss important viewpoints.

Assessment of effects on landscape

Ms Wigley says UKOG concedes its proposal would have a major effect on the perceptual and sensory response to the landscape. Mr Gardner agrees. This is significant, they agree.

On visual amenity, there would be a major impact on views from the bridleway. The impact on the view from High Loxley Road is high, they agree.

Mr Gardner says there are points where the site would not be visible.

It is not a good change, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner says he does not argue it is a beneficial effect.

The proposed removal of a hedgerow and installation of fencing would be more than a moderate impact, Ms Wigley says. Mr Gardner says not all the hedgerow would be removed.

Ms Wigley says uses of the lane by HGV, lane widening and a layby would have a major loss. Mr Gardner says it is a moderate loss of certain features.

Ms Wigley says the landscape assessment splits the operation into phases. This risks losing the cumulative effect of the development, she says. Each phase should use a baseline of pre-development, not a comparison with the previous phase. Mr Gardner accepts this.

They agree that the inspector should assess the whole development, not the change from one phase to another.

Restoration

Ms Wigley says the council and the company disagree on how long it would take for the restoration work to return the site to the current state.

The restoration phase would have its own disruption, she says. Mr Gardner agrees.

Disagreements

Ms Wigley says the council and company disagree on the magnitude of change from Hascombe Hill. The company listed this as very low. The council says it was very high.

During the drilling phase, the council said the impact from a footpath was low, while the council said it was very high.

Ms Wigley says you can’t discount the access road during the drilling phase so there should still be a medium, not low, change. The baseline should be pre-development, not the previous phase, she says. The low magnitude of change should be between one phase to another, not overall.

The impact of change on Thatched House Farm is assessed as low by UKOG and very high by the council. Mr Gardner says this would increase to medium if the Burchetts woodland was felled.

Mr Gardner agrees that fencing, highway work and cabins would be in place during a site retention phase.


12.07pm Cross-examination by Waverley Borough Council

Patrick Arthurs, for Waverley Borough Council, reviews Will Gardner’s evidence.

Will Gardner (above) and Patrick Arthurs

Landscape assessment

Mr Arthurs asks whether the lack of night-time and winter views in the original assessment was a serious omission. Mr Gardner says the AONB officer was aware of this when commenting on the application and his judgments would not have been materially changed.

Valued landscapes

On a valued landscape, Mr Arthurs asks if five criteria in guidance have been met why Mr Gardner concludes the appeal site is not valued. Mr Gardner says a right of way alone does not make a landscape valued. Mr Arthurs says using guidance it should be a valued landscape. Mr Gardner disagrees.

Mr Arthurs asks who were consulted locally about the value of the landscape. Mr Gardner says he had not consulted anyone.

Mr Arthurs says most people who objected to the application had suggested they valued the landscape. Didn’t make this valued, Mr Arthurs says. Mr Gardner says popularity of an area does not make it valued. It is sensitive, Mr Gardner says. But he says it may not reach the threshold for the National Planning Policy Framework.

Impact of the drilling rig

Mr Arthurs says the Booster ride on the end of Brighton Pier is 39m high, visible 5km away. He says the rig would sit in unlit open countryside. Why was it not assessed from further away, he asks. Mr Gardner says the landscape assessment had been agreed between the company and the council. Mr Arthurs says the rig would have a impact outside the 2km study area.

UKOG’s evidence says the rig’s impact on Dunsfold Road would be limited because cars would be driving at 60mph. Mr Arthurs asks would there not be passengers in the cars.

Extension of the AONB

Mr Arthurs says whether the Surrey Hills AONB could be extended to land west of High Loxley Lane. Mr Gardner says Natural England is assessing an extension.

Entrance off High Loxley Road

Mr Arthurs says the impact of the entrance, which is 90m from the edge of the AONB, should be considered.

Tranquillity

Mr Arthurs puts it to Mr Gardner that the area is tranquil. How will this affect the landscape, he asks. Mr Gardner says the overall effect will be adverse.

Restoration

The council argues that it will take 14 years to reach neutral impact with new tree planting. Mr Gardner says it is not necessary to return to the pre-development state to achieve a neutral impact.

Mr Arthurs says its has been suggested by UKOG that the three year temporary proposal diminishes its impact. The impact on the landscape is at least 10 years and possibly longer, he says. The impact on the landscape should be considered in the light of a permanent fixture, he says.

Mr Gardner says other phases of the development would require additional applications, in which impacts would be assessed.


12.37: Inspector’s questions for UKOG landscape witness

Mike Robins

The inspector, Mike Robins puts a series of questions to Will Gardner, UKOG;s landscape witness:

  • Is there a plan of the trees that would be retained after felling of Burchetts woodland. Mr Gardner says one would be produced.
  • At what point does temporary become more permanent? Mr Gardner says for a lot of the three years there would be no operations on the site. The impacts would vary throughout the three years. He says the restoration won’t start until the end of the period.
  • What is the height of the rig and how long will it be there? Mr Gardner says he assessed the rig at 37m. If the rig were 42m, also mentioned, you would see more of the tower, Mr Gardner says.
  • Is the 7m the height when the rig is not in place? Mr Gardner says a company witness will clarify. There will also be lighting towers.
  • Were other locations or viewpoints screened out of the landscape assessment? Mr Gardner says this was a question for the council’s landscape witness.
  • When would be entrance cabins and fencing be removed? Mr Gardner says this would be in the final restoration phase. The removed hedgerow at the entrance would be replaced at the end of the project, he says.

 12.51pm: UKOG re-examination of its landscape witness

David Elvin QC

David Elvin QC reviews UKOG’s landscape evidence with its witness, Will Gardner.

Duration and reversibility Mr Elvin asks about how duration and reversibility was considered in assessing the magnitude of the landscape.

Mr Gardner says changes were assessed about whether they were reversible and whether they were long or short duration.

Mr Elvin says only the phase 1 (site construction) effects are considered temporary. The rest are considered short-term. Mr Gardner agrees.

Fencing and lighting: Mr Elvin asks when fencing and lighting would be removed. This would be less than three years, Mr Gardner says. This depends on completion of exploration and the right season for tree planting.

Oil production: Mr Elvin asks whether the effects of a future development, such as oil production, have been considered. No, says Mr Gardner.

Landscape study area: Mr Elvin puts it to Mr Gardner that a 2km study area was agreed between the parties as appropriate. Mr Gardner agrees.

Felling of Burchetts woodland: Mr Elvin asks whether there would be any visibility from The Raswell if the woodland had been felled.

1pm Break

The inquiry adjourns to 2pm. Look out for our report on news from this afternoon’s session.

2pm Continued review of UKOG landscape evidence

David Elvin QC for UKOG resumes his review of the company’s landscape evidence, with its witness, Will Gardner.

Ash die back: Mr Elvin asks about the likelihood that ash trees in the area would have to be felled because of die back. Mr Gardner says there was a good-fair chance that the ash trees would remain for the life of the development.

Cumulative impact: Mr Elvin asks how Mr Gardner assessed the overall landscape impact from the different phases of the proposed well site. Mr Gardner says he considered a worst-case scenario for each phase. He says the highways effects would be considered for all the phases.

Valued landscape: Mr Elvin asks about the legal points from a court case, discussed by the county council’s barrister, Jenny Wigley. Mr Gardner says the court case concluded that designation does not guarantee landscape value.

Felling: Mr Elvin asks whether council planning officers took account of a felling licence for woodland surrounding part of the proposed site. The company has argued that it offers screening of operations and equipment. Mr Gardner agrees that in reaching a recommendation to approve the UKOG plans council officers had received confirmation about the licence from the Forestry Commission.

Heavy goods vehicles: Mr Elvin refers to the report on the application by planning officers on HGVs. The report took account of traffic data. Mr Gardner says there would be “quite a modest increase” in daily HGV movements if the UKOG plans were approved. Mr Elvin says a wedding venue on the lane to be used to access the site had consent for 75 events a year and one event had 250 guests. Mr Gardner says this would increase vehicle movements and would have an impact on the landscape.

Visibility: Mr Gardner confirmed that landscape topography was fundamental in screening the site. Burchetts wood would help screen the site but it was not essential, he says. Fencing would help lower levels of development. Mr Gardner confirMrs there are limited views of the area from the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The appeal site was a “very small proportion” of these views.

Loxley/Dunsfold inquiry page

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s