The councillor responsible for environmental issues on the Isle of Wight has come out against plans to drill for oil, due to be decided tomorrow.
Jonathan Bacon, the council’s cabinet member for environment and heritage, said there were grounds to justify a refusal of proposals by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) for exploration near the village of Arreton.
He questioned the recommendation by council officials to approve the application. In a report for tomorrow’s meeting, planners said the economic benefits outweighed environmental harm.
But Cllr Bacon, a former council leader, said:
“The report makes it clear that the local benefits are minimal and gives no detail or justification about the alleged wider benefits.
“When one combines this with the knowledge that the proposal would at most produce a supply of oil lasting for just 12 days the economic benefit argument falls flat.
“Overall therefore, in addition to be able to state that the proposal is plainly inappropriate for the Island, the Planning Committee can refer to a clear policy base upon which it can support and justify a decision to refuse the application.”
Cllr Bacon was speaking after the delivery of a petition, signed by 4,400 people, opposing the UKOG application.
The campaign group, Don’t Drill The Wight, said there had also been more than 3,000 formal objections to the council, including those from the local MP, six parish councils and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. A rally is planned for tomorrow afternoon, before the start of the planning meeting.
There have been no objections to the application from the council’s environmental health team, ecology officer and AONB Partnership. The Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Southern Water did not object. Natural England and Historic England made no comments.
Cllr Bacon, who is not a member of the planning committee, said today:
“The strength of public feeling against the proposal before the Planning Committee on Tuesday is clear, both in the number of objections received and the recently delivered petition signed by 4,410 residents.
“It is plain to anyone who recognises what is most important about our Island and who appreciates its natural beauty and fragile geology, that drilling for outdated fossil fuel sources is wrong. However, as with all planning applications, the decision needs to be based on Policy.”
He said planners could not be criticised for referring in their report to government statements that fossil fuels would remain important during the transition to greener energy. But he added:
“However I strongly feel they have not interpreted the government’s stance correctly. While it may be obvious that such fuel sources will be relevant and important for some years to come, this is in no way a justification for new drilling operations.
“This is particularly so if one further has regard to the overarching requirement that development should be sustainable. Fossil fuels simply do not satisfy this test.”
He said the application exposed an inadequate policy base on the Isle of Wight because the new Island Plan has yet to be finalised. This means, he said, councillors must rely on the government’s National Planning Policy Framework.
But he added:
“things may not be so bleak here if one looks at the overall policy base. Government Policy has moved on since the NPPF was written and there is a clear direction of travel in respect of supporting green energy and climate change.
“In addition, while we still do not have a local Island Plan, we have a clear Climate Change Policy and we are now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
“These are things that will obviously be reflected in the new Island Plan so it is inappropriate to rely on the fact that the new Plan itself is not in being yet, when constituent parts of it clearly are.”
Tomorrow’s meeting is expected to be addressed by UKOG representatives and opponents of the scheme, including members of Don’t Drill The Wight.
Last week, Vix Lowthion, of the Green Party, writing in the County Press, called on Boris Johnson to declare a moratorium on all new hydrocarbon exploration in the UK, starting with the Isle of Wight.
At the petition handover, Susan Betts, of the Blue Seas Protection marine conservation charity, said:
“The Isle of Wight cannot afford to have its freshwater drinking supply at risk of contamination by this proposed oil drilling.
“During the drilling process, high strength acids and chemicals will be forced into the rock to get to the oil below our aquifers. The council should reject UKOG’s planning application.
“Oil drilling would contribute to the destruction of the natural environment on the Isle of Wight, put our source of drinking water at risk, and would rapidly increase the impact of climate change.”
Public demonstration, 3.30pm, Tuesday 19 October 2021, County Hall, High Street, Newport, Isle of Wight. Details
Planning committee meeting, 4pm, Tuesday 19 October 2021, County Hall, High Street, Newport, Isle of Wight. Link to agenda
- DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the meeting. Key facts and timeline on the Arreton proposal