UKOG drilling plans would be “outlandish” in a sensitive landscape, inquiry told

Proposals to explore for gas near a Surrey village would harm the beauty, tranquillity and openness of the surrounding landscape, an inquiry heard this afternoon.

Effects of lighting on proposed well site. Source: Waverley Borough Council

UK Oil & Gas is appealing against refusal of planning permission to drill two gas wells on farmland at Loxley, near Dunsfold.

On the third day of the inquiry, a witness for Waverley Borough Council gave evidence against the scheme. Landscape consultant John-Paul Friend said of the proposal:

“The use will be outlandish in a sensitive landscape”.

He described the impact of the site on the surroundings as “major moderate adverse”.

John-Paul Friend (bottom) and Matthew Dale-Harris

“Industrial-style operation” will harm views

The proposed site is in a designated Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and near the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Mr Friend said:

“Waverley Borough Council considers that the development of this site with the appeal proposal would cause harm to the landscape character, beauty, tranquillity and openness of the Countryside beyond the Green Belt and within the AGLV.

“A significant industrial style operation will be formed on the site and views to the associated elements will be available from adjoining fields within the AGLV and the Surrey Hill AONB.”

He said a key issue was that people visiting Hascombe Hill, in the AONB, could sit on a bench and look down on a view that included the proposed site.

“That bench is there for a purpose. It faces south. The site will be in the foreground of the view.

“People who sit on that bench and see this [site] may not return because they will not see an untouched landscape.”

When lit at night, the site would also stand out from the AONB, Mr Friend said:

“The 37m lit structure [of the drilling rig] will affect the visual baseline. It will have an effect on the feel, the experience, of the effect of dark skies at Hascombe Hill”.

He added that wellpad would also detract from the view of Hascombe Hill from a right of way next to the proposed site. He said:

“It is my professional judgement that the proposals when located on site would result in a noticeable adverse change from the local landscape and from viewpoints within the AONB.

“This change would be noticeable during both daylight and night-time hours and would be worse during winter months when vegetation has lost its foliage.”

He said there would be additional noise at night and this, along with site operations, would affect the tranquillity of the area. He said he had been surprised how quiet the site was.

“I was there for hours and not a single vehicle passed me.

The proposed widening of the junction of Dunsfold Road and High Loxley Road, needed to accommodate large heavy goods vehicles, and extra street furniture, would have an urbanising effect, he said.

“Fails to protect a valued landscape “

UKOG has argued that the area was not a valued landscape, despite its AGLV designation.

But Mr Friend said Surrey County Council’s landscape assessment concluded that the site was indeed in a landscape of high value and highly susceptible to change.

Mr Friend said:

“The proposal would fail to protect a valued landscape or to recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the open countryside.”

He said this meant it failed to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework.

Matthew Dale-Harris, for UKOG, said for a landscape to be valued it had to be out-of-the-ordinary. This was quite a high bar, he said.

Mr Friend responded that value could be affected by various factors. “Something as simple as tranquillity can be enough to make a landscape valued”, he said.

“Under-estimated impact”

UKOG told the inquiry earlier this week that there would be “short-term adverse effects on the landscape characteristics”. But it said they would be confined to a discrete area, the change would be “low-level”, the effects would last for just three years and the long-term impact would be neutral.

Mr Friend told the inquiry this afternoon:

“In my professional judgement, the effect [of the drilling site] will have more of an impact than has been reported in the [company’s] landscape and visual impact assessment.

He said:

“Three years seems like a small amount but in someone’s lifetime this is quite an amount. It will have an impact on someone’s perception of that landscape.”

Mr Friend also criticised UKOG for failing to provide winter views of the area and for not producing night-time lighting assessments. This was “a major weakness” in UKOG’s evidence, he said.

Mr Dale-Harris said the landscape around the proposed wellsite was not untouched. There is an aerodrome not far to the south, there is a caravan site, he said. Mr Friend responded that the landscape was rural and agricultural.

Mr Friend has said the rig would be on site for about 60 weeks. Mr Dale Harris said: “You have overstated the impacts”. The likely duration of drilling vertical and sidetrack wells would be up to 20-24 weeks, Mr Dale-Harris said. It was unlikely that tall equipment would be onsite for more than 30 weeks, he added.

The inquiry resumes at 9.30 on Friday 30 July 2021

21 replies »

  1. The average height of a wind turbine is 75meters. By the logic expressed by this witness none could be erected in an area close to an aonb.

  2. And, then there are the pylons that march across the most pristine of our countryside-and there will need to be more of those.

    This “industrialization” seems to be rather selective. However, it can’t be, thus there is an Appeals opportunity, and then an Enquiry if required.

      • I wouln’t bank on no come back Jono. I suspect the hardrives are overheating as we write. Incidentally, do you notice any wind turbine generators either? No? Thats because there arent any.

        • The point I was making is that a move to renewable will require significantly more turbines and pylons to implement. The believe that this can happen without affecting anyone is nonsense. The wonderful costal views on many parts of the country are now blighted by turbines as are parts of peak district. The argument seems to be that it is OK for others to put up with development as long as it doesn’t affect you. If only there was a word for that.

          • There is a word for that.


            There is another word for that.


            There is still yet another word for that.


          • Good and relevant points, Mike. Supported by the facts that some on shore turbines have had protests for removal, because locals believe as you do. And, in France, some have been forced to stop spinning because they make too much noise (and yes, I provided the reference Paul.)

            With apologies to Kate Bush:

            Wuthering Heights plus turbines.

            “Heathcliffe, it’s me, I’m Cathy
            I’ve come home, I’m so cold
            Let me in your window”.

            Drowned out, so, she just had to perish. Thus is “progress.”

            • Perhaps worth pointing out that Martin’s comment refers to a group of five turbines in Echauffour. They have been found to exceed agreed noise limits.
              And, for now, they have been stopped from spinning between 7pm and 7am.

              (Following quoted from this report

              The Orne prefecture took the decision at the end of January to shut down the Echauffour wind farm.

              An order of “emergency measure for non-compliance noted” was published in early February to ratify the decision, reports France 3 Normandie.

              Local residents have been complaining about the noise pollution generated by these wind turbines for almost two years.

              Studies have shown that there are indeed overshoots of regulatory acoustic volume thresholds.

              Relief for local residents

              The prefecture announced its decision on January 26, before specifying the terms of this judgment on February 8.

              The blades of the wind turbines will thus be stopped for five months every day between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

              During this period, an appraisal must be carried out by an external expert on the wind farm.

              To be able to restart, the wind farm must not generate more than 10 decibels more than the ambient sound during the day and not more than 4 decibels more during the night.

              For residents, overwhelmed by these noise pollution, the prefecture’s decision is a real relief.

  3. Just an aerodrome! And, another, much larger one, not far away. Pylons? ( “There will need to be more of them”) was a clue.

    By the way, Council, if the lane is so important then perhaps a bit of resurfacing may be in order? Wonder where that surface would come from?

    Not sure many environmentalists would agree with ringing trees to kill the ivy, either. And, that hedgerow needs a bit of time and care to flourish, but that is what landscapes need. They change and are managed-either to change them or maintain them.

  4. So, it is agreed that there are are still no 75m high wind turbine generators or any 50m high pylons at or near the Loxely and Dunsfold ANOB.

    Ringing trees?? Is that from ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’? Oxymoron?

    That’s an odd departure from the issue of non existent pylons, non existent wind turbine generators and an, as yet, non existing but proposed 37m high test drilling rig delivered, serviced and removed by bigger than HGV’s? Which is the real issue at stake.

    Incidentally, one does not ‘ring’ a tree to remove ivy (the plant that is). One merely removes the ivy. ‘Ringing’ a tree, actually means cutting the bark in a ring all the way around the tree trunk.

    That will quickly not only kill the ivy, but also entire tree. Not a good ecological practice for a budding conservationist who cares so much for the natural landscape of a long established and finely balanced fragile AONB? Quicker than ash die back and a horrible practice of vandals. Chain saws are no better.

    Ivy isn’t as bad as its reputation, in a natural landscape that is. Particularly not for a tree that is so substantial and established as the one in the photograph. Since a lot of birds build their nests in ivy, and animals rely on the cover it gives them from predators.

    No protection from tree ringers and chain saws though.

      • It’s also interesting to note that throughout the planning process for the up to 2300 houses to be built in this area it was agreed that it is not an ANOB or ANOL……..
        . Strange

      • Thats what KatT and I said.

        ‘News updates: Loxley/Dunsfold drilling inquiry – Day 1 afternoon
        Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)’

        ‘Mr Gardner says HGVs would not be using the site for the full three years of the proposal.’

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

        ‘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.’

        ‘Council accused of “exaggeration” and “after-thought” at Dunsfold drilling inquiry’

        ‘How big will be the impact of the drilling site?
        The inquiry heard more discussion this morning about the scale of impact of the landscape from the proposed site.
        The council is concerned about increases in traffic on Dunsfold Road and High Loxley Road, a narrow lane which will provide access to the drilling pad.
        Mr Elvin says there are currently nearly 800 HGVs on Dunsfold Road. This is an important factor. We are adding 10 HGVs a day, he says. These would be spready over 12 hours. It is an insignificant number, he says.
        That is just one issue I have considered, Mrs Brown says.
        The inquiry later hears that there will be up to 10 visits by HGVs to the wellsite, 10 in and 10 out.
        Mrs Brown says the largest HGVs visiting the site were expected to result in a 6% increase of those using Dunsfold Road.’

        Which is correct?

    • Absolutely untrue.

      I have worked on a number of farms where ringing a tree of ivy has been instructed and conducted. Usually on younger trees than shown on this photo, and intended for a cash crop. (Cricket bats come to mind.) No chain saws required.

      A little more experience and a little less Google.

      But, too much to expect.

      Now, bark ringing a tree is a useful operation in certain parts of the world where wood is the main source of heat, and the locals wish to prepare a few trees to be ready to fell for a source of firewood the following year, dried and ready to burn. Ringed with chain saws, fueled by?? Been there, seen it done.

      Not to be confused with the operation carried out by dubious developers attempting to overcome a tree preservation order! Seen that done, also.

      So, context makes the same term, good, bad or somewhat suspect.

  5. Cuadrilla’s failed attempts at test fracking just two wells certainly caused disruption in Lancashire. To the road network, the visual environment, residents homes and residents physucal and mental wellbeing being!
    Check out Anna Szolucha’s brilliant papers on this topic for confirmation.

  6. Ahh. Departure from the issue of non existent pylons and wind turbine generators again.

    So rather concentrate on non existent pylons and non existent wind turbine generators, or an as yet non existent UKOG exploration rig for that matter. Apparently its anything to talk about something else it seems.

    Or would it be better to concentrate on intermittently visible/invisible HGV’s? No google required.

    However. Whatever.

    Ivy growing around a tree is called ivy circling, not ivy ringing.

    The term used was ‘ringing trees’. Which is indeed killing a tree by cutting the bark in a ring all the way around the trunk.

    Ringing trees is also known as girdling or ring-barking. Not to be confused with The Singing Ringing Tree oxymoron?

    Nice photo of that here. Burnley’s Panopticon, ‘Singing Ringing Tree’, is a unique musical sculpture which overlooks Burnley from its position high above the town on Crown Point.

    Proof of the term? Please don’t try this at home.

    How to Ring Trees to Kill Them

    Ringing a tree????

    Oh well, one day maybe the actual issue of the UKOG inquiry at Loxely/Dunsfold will be mentioned rather than these odd departures and misdirections?

    Too much to expect? I couldnt possible say that.

  7. Yep, more Google, not experience.

    The term used was “ringing trees to kill the ivy”.

    So, why would someone want to take a comment out of context by editing it?

    For parents:

    “Dad you said I could go out and play”.

    “No, son, I told you that you could go out and play after you finished your homework”.

    Too obvious, and too familiar.

    • Ahh. The deafening silence of the cheerfulful pessimist.
      The sparklingly clear muddied water emerges and shines darkly in the light.

      No google required. Lots of practical experience.

      Term used was ‘ringing trees’. Meaning is precise. Ivy reference doesnt change meaning. Suddenly words become important? No evidence of that before.

      Return ‘Why’ question to source regarding past performance of own behaviour.

      Why constant departure from Loxely/Dunsfold/UKOG inquiry issue? Add to previous ‘Why’?

      Far too obvious, and far too familiar. To be expected.



      [That’s enough on ringing trees – moderator]

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