Lincolnshire councillors this morning unanimously refused more time for an undeveloped oil site near Market Rasen – the third time the operator had sought to extend the life of the site.
To applause, the county council’s planning committee voted to refuse another 12 months at Egdon Resource’s North Kelsey site because of the impact on the amenity of local residents.
More than 1,1000 people had opposed the latest extension application. There were also objections from seven parish, town and district councils, as well as local environmental organisations and residents’ groups. But council officials had recommend the application be approved.
The site was first granted planning permission in 2014 for a temporary period of three years.
But in more than seven years, the only work carried out on site has been on the entrance. The wellpad has not been built and no wells drilled.
Lincolnshire County Council extended the life of the site twice, in April 2018 and September 2020.
Egdon has previously blamed the withdrawal of a partner, delays at the Wressle oil site near Scunthorpe and the low price of oil.
It said the latest request and the 2020 extension were needed because of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Company accounts for the year ending July 2021 said drilling at North Kelsey was partly dependent on whether Egdon Resources was able to farm out the work.
A meeting of the planning committee in Lincoln this morning heard there had been formal objections from Edward Leigh MP and parish and town councils representing South Kelsey and Moortown, North Kelsey, Holton le Moor, Grasby, Bigby and Caistor.
West Lindsey District Council, the local district councillor, Caistor GO2 environment group and CPRE had also objected. A petition with 1,135 signatures and more than 120 objections from members of the public had been submitted .
Lincolnshire’s head of planning, Neil McBride, told the committee Egdon Resources had “demonstrated a reasonable expectation” to be able to complete the proposed developments within a 12-month period without increased impacts on amenity on the local community, transport network and other land users already addressed both separately and cumulatively.
Mark Abbott, the company’s MD, speaking by video link, said developing domestic oil and gas was key to reducing the UK’s dependence on sources from other countries. In the transition to a low carbon economy, the country would need oil for transport, heating and as an industrial feedstock.
The recent events in Ukraine had shown the need for domestic supplies, Mr Abbott said.
He said the site was now ready for construction:
“The extension of time by 12 months would not cause greater impacts than those already considered acceptable.”
But local people have accused Egdon Resources of “an abuse of the principles of the planning process” for failing to start work on the site. Seven years of uncertainty about when work would start had caused anxiety, they said.
Local resident Amanda Suddaby was moved to tears when she told the committee:
“We have suffered years of uncertainty.
“Our country lanes and fields are as yet unharmed. Please protect them and reject this application”.
She said the crisis in Ukraine was being used to support onshore oil and gas developments for commercial gain. She urged councillors to reject the application.
“Call a halt before Egdon Resources make any investment and before any harm is done.”
Residents also alleged the company was guilty of “planning by stealth”. The latest application also sought to change the well from vertical to lateral because the original direction could miss the oil target. Previous extensions also sought to change the site layout and add extra cabins, tanks and lighting towers.
Mr Abbott said the site construction would take three to six months and drilling six to eight weeks. He said the change in drilling direction would not increase traffic to the site.
The local county councillor, Charles Marfleet, said:
“there is a point now, enough is enough.
“They [Egdon] have had their time. We can say we are not extending this anymore. The local communities are left with this going on.
“It is time to throw it out.
“This is not going to be a gamechanger for oil supply. If you want oil, go to the North Sea. This is a little pond.”
Cllr Marlfleet added:
“This is a beautiful site. We don’t have many sites like this in Lincolnshire. It is in touching distance of the Lincolnshire Wolds”.
He said impact assessments on the site were now out of date. Changes to the scheme represented a complete new application.
Another local councillor, Stephen Bunney, said a condition of the 2020 extension had been that there should not be another extension without very good reasons. He said:
“A small economically insignificant project with significant environmental impacts does not make sense and does not merit planning permission.”
A member of the committee, Tom Smith, said it was “disingenuous” to use the Ukraine crisis and Covid-19 to justify the time extension.
“They [Egdon] have had seven years before we knew what Covid was.
“No more extensions. I cannot support the extension”.
He said the scheme would affect the character of the nearby Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Given the small amount of oil, it was not in the public interest to develop the site, he said.
Cllr Ian Carrington, said other industries had managed to carry on despite Covid-19 and he said:
“We have a situation here of a history of delays.”
Cllr Thomas Ashton, said he was “deeply troubled” by the application. He said the reasons for an extension were not as good as the committee had in mind in 2020. Other construction work had got underway in Lincolnshire during the pandemic, he said.
Cllr Paula Ashleigh-Morris said she had not heard anything to justify the extension. More time would put great pressure on local residents.
Cllr Paul Skinner said the world had moved on since the scheme last came before the committee.
Cllr Marianne Overton said it was unreasonable to extend the permission again.
“We have to look at this fresh, in the light of new legislation and the new local plan and the situation has changed. This is contrary to the new local plan”.
Planning officer, Neil McBride, said the new local plan was in the very early stages and should not be taken into account.
Cllr Noi Sear said residents should not have had to put up with uncertainty for seven years. The company had its fair chance, she said.
“It is not good enough.”
West Lindsey District Council said the North Kelsey project was unlikely to be achieved in the extra time sought by Egdon Resources. Given the lack of progress in the past seven years, it said, another extension was not justified.
In its application, Egdon Resources said the principle of hydrocarbon exploration at North Kelsey had been accepted because planning permission had previously been granted.
It said there was no evidence that increasing indigenous oil and gas production would lead to higher level of consumption.
Since the application was submitted, the government’s advisor, the Climate Change Committee, said there should be controls on the supply of oil and gas, with tighter limits on production. The CCC said extra domestic oil and gas production would support a larger global market and could lead to additional consumption and higher emissions.
Opponents of the North Kelsey development said it would, at best, produce enough oil to supply the UK for less than a day..
Reporting at this committee meeting was made possible by donations from DrillOrDrop readers