The operator of a Lincolnshire oil site, where only limited work has been carried out since 2014, has been accused of “planning by stealth”.
Egdon Resources is seeking another 12 months at the North Kelsey site near the Lincolnshire Wolds – its third application to extend the duration of the planning permission.
Consent was first granted more than seven years ago. Since then, Egdon has built only the site entrance and a layby.
The company has blamed its lack of progress on low oil prices, Covid-19, the withdrawal of a partner and delays at another site.
But in that time, it has added permissions for extra cabins, tanks and lighting towers and changed the site layout. The latest application includes a request for a sidetrack well.
Amanda Suddaby, a campaigner against the site, said:
“Egdon Resources have had permission to drill here for seven years. In that time all they’ve done is submit numerous plans to expand the scope of the development.
“This practice of ‘planning by stealth’ creates anxiety for local people. It undermines public confidence in our decision-makers.
“Thank goodness though, that they haven’t started any real work, because this can still be stopped before any major harm is done to this beautiful environment and the wildlife that it supports.”
West Lindsey District Council has objected to what it described as “incremental expansion through multiple planning applications”. It said:
“This is not just an extension of time.
“Since the original approval in 2014, this development has been expanded through subsequent planning applications and Egdon are now asking to widen the scope of the permitted activities by requesting that sidetrack drilling be added.
“Yet, there is a complete absence of detail in the Planning Statement as to whether this change will have any consequential impacts.”
So far, the latest changes at the wellsite have also been opposed by five of the closest parish councils, representing six villages, Lincolnshire Climate Commission, the Caistor GO2 environmental group and the local Conservative MP, Edward Leigh.
At the time of writing, an online petition against the scheme has more than 400 signatures.
Amanda Suddaby said:
“We need Lincolnshire County Council’s planning committee to reject Egdon’s plans. In September 2020 committee members said there should be no more extensions of time. We need them to stand by that and finally put an end to the years of anxiety that local people have endured.”
West Lindsey District Council said there was “a high risk” that further extensions would be needed:
“the slightest hitch means that they [Egdon] will run out of time.
“There are serious questions as to whether the timescales being put forward by the applicant are realistic, particularly following the lack of progress so far, and this may further prolong uncertainty and anxiety for the local population.”
Caistor Town Council and Grasby Parish Council expressed concern about the lack of progress and questioned the company’s justification of more time.
Holton Le Moor Parish Meeting said in its objection:
“It is an abuse of the principles of the planning process to extend the time period for the development simply because the applicant has not deemed it appropriate for them to commence the development.
“If Egdon Resources wish to develop the site then they should do so within the parameters of the planning permission that currently exists. Extending the time period introduces uncertainty and concern for residents with no end date.”
North Kelsey Parish Council said:
“There has already been too much leeway granted for this project”.
It said the sidetrack direction could change again if Egdon were granted permission, with a direct impact on nearby homes.
It raised concerns about noise, light and air pollution, lack of screening, threat to tourism and the hazards of large vehicles on a blind bend for walkers, horse riders and cyclists. It also said oil produced at the site would provide only enough to satisfy UK consumption for a few hours.
Residents gathered near the site this week to draw attention to what they believe is the threat to rare and protected birds, such as lapwing, fieldfare, skylark, yellowhammer, barn owls and tree sparrows.
They also said the scheme contradicted national targets for emissions reductions and Lincolnshire’s policies on the environment, carbon management and transition away from fossil fuels.
There were no comments on the proposals from Anglian Water. Natural England said it was not able to “fully assess potential impacts” on nature conservation sites or protected landscapes.
The Environment Agency, Lincolnshire Police and the local highways authority had no objections.
The application could be decided by Lincolnshire’s planning committee on 14 February or 14 March 2022.