Balcombe seeks legal challenge to test of oil well

The village at the centre of anti-fracking protests 10 years ago is taking on the oil industry again.

Opponents of oil operations at Balcombe in 2013, when the then operator, Cuadrilla, drilled at well near the village. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

People in Balcombe in West Sussex are seeking to overturn the decision to allow testing of an oil well in the village.

The test, to find out if the well was commercially-viable, was unanimously refused by the county council in March 2021. But last month, a planning inspector ruled that it could go ahead.

Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) is launching a crowdfunding campaign tomorrow (Saturday 11 March 2023) for a legal challenge at the High Court.

The group said it aims to quash the inspector’s decision and stop hydrocarbon exploration in the Sussex High Weald.

It said the impact of well testing on the village would be devastating.

Balcombe is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is nationally protected for its beauty and tranquillity. More than 800 people had objected to the well test.

In refusing permission, West Sussex County Council said the proposal was not in the public interest and would have “minimal benefit” to the local economy. It decided there were no exceptional circumstances to justify the scheme in the AONB.

The planning inspector, Brian Sims, concluded there would be a “moderate adverse impact” on the landscape of the AONB.

But he said the national need for energy was the “overriding consideration” and amounted to the “requisite exceptional justification” for permitting what is classed as major development in the High Weald.

The planning permission allows the test to be carried out over the course of 12 months. Work must begin by February 2026.

 FFBRA said the inspector’s decision defied the protected status of the area and ignored the climate crisis.

The group said it has instructed the law firm, Leigh Day, to examine the legality of the decision.

It aims to raise £5,000 in the next 30 days and later an additional £30,000 to cover potential legal costs.

FFBRA said the fundraising campaign would support Balcombe, protect the environment and set a precedent for the entire region.

The crowdfunding launch is at 2pm-4pm, at Bramble Hall, Balcombe RH17 6HR on Saturday 11 March.


Opponents of onshore oil and gas developments took part in daily protests in Balcombe when Cuadrilla drilled an exploratory oil well in the summer of 2013.

The company, now best known for fracking in Lancashire, told a government minister in 2011 that it needed to frack at Balcombe to make the well commercially viable.

The protests increased awareness of fracking in the UK and helped to launch a nationwide campaign against the process. Surveys of attitudes to fracking showed an increase in opposition after the protests, which became known as the “Balcombe effect”.

Cuadrilla ran out of time to test the Balcombe well in 2013.

In May 2018, Cuadrilla transferred operation of the site to Angus Energy.

The well was tested once, briefly, in September 2018, when unexpected water was found.

Link to crowdfunding page

Updated 28/3/23 to clarify conditions on when the test must be carried out.

1 reply »

  1. Interesting that the EU is introducing new regulations to fast track planning for critical components of the “brave new world” on the basis that the need over-rides some disruption!

    So, good luck with trying to buck that “trend”.

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