Leith Hill Action Group – Newsletter 6 (19th April 2012)
Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!
Hello and welcome to our sixth newsletter. In this issue, we’re going to explain the legal process. From talking with some of you at LHAG events, it’s obvious that some clarification would be appreciated.
But first, a quick update of the latest funding position. Saturday 7th April saw LHAG’s second event, as The Darlings and The Salts put on a fantastic gig at the Star pub in Dorking. I think I can speak for everybody who was lucky enough to be there when I say thanks to the bands for a great time! We raised a great deal of awareness about the issue, plus a wonderful £500 for the fighting fund.
We’d also like to thank everybody else who has created their own fundraising efforts, from getting sponsorship to putting on events. We are very grateful and love hearing about them.
And now it’s time for the LHAG Totalizer (look out for it also on our website). Current funds raised are an incredible £17,780!
And now on with the focus for this newsletter – an account of the journey we have been through and where we are going next.
The Initial Foray
This fight started in earnest in February 2009, when the individuals that would later band together to form Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) first became aware of the issue.
The first job in March 2009 for the newly established LHAG was to counter the planning application prepared in October 2008 by The Barton Willmore Planning Partnership on behalf of Europa Oil and Gas. In a story that would become only too familiar, this had to be done in a very tight timeframe. LHAG’s initial 44-page reponse was submitted to Surrey County Council in April 2009.
As a result of this response, Surrey County Council requested further information from Europa, which was finally supplied in December 2009. LHAG then had just 28 days to respond to this (and this over the Christmas period!) A Herculean effort resulted in LHAG’s additional second 40-page response being submitted on 15th January 2010.
This pattern was repeated in early 2011. Further information was requested and supplied and LHAG was given another 28 day timeline to react, which resulted in the third response on 14th April 2011
The Planning Hearing
This first phase of the story culminated in an incredible day at County Hall in Kingston-upon-Thames on 25th May 2011. LHAG co-ordinated the presentation of carefully scripted and rehearsed arguments against the application by four of its committee and a representative of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England – each had a strict three minutes and no more. In addition, two county councillors spoke from the floor against the application. Additional pressure was present in the form of BBC London News filming the hearing; such is the interest in our campaign.
Debate between the councillors then lasted for three hours, whilst the scores of residents who had travelled to watch looked on enthralled (and not always as quietly as Europa might have liked). The final result was a decision against the application!
All this work and each of these truly excellent and professional responses were the result of hundreds of hours of work by the LHAG committee, all in their spare time and all, needless to say, for free. It was a real-life “little guy versus the big corporation” story, lasting for over two years and it had, for now, the necessary happy ending. However, whilst the battle had been won, the war was far from over.
The official refusal of the application was confirmed in mid-June. This gave Europa until mid-December to appeal.
Just when we had begun to think that this deadline might pass unheralded, the appeal was submitted. Once again, Europa had chosen to act just before Christmas. Once again, LHAG had to act within a very tight timeframe.
The principal parties to an appeal would normally the applicant (Europa) and the Authority (Surrey County Council, “SCC”). But because all the arguments that saw the application denied had been made by LHAG and not by SCC’s officers, LHAG sought and was granted (in January 2012) a special status under Rule 6 of the rules on planning inquiries.
Having Rule 6 Status means that LHAG is a full party to the appeal. It has the right to appoint its own barrister, who can cross-examine Europa and its representatives. It can also present its own evidence, including testimony of Expert Witnesses. Although LHAG stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Surrey County Council, it remains an independent party in the Inquiry.
LHAG’s Involvement in the Inquiry
The parties were required to submit their Statements of Case in early February. This is an outline of the legal and technical arguments that they will present at the Inquiry. LHAG were pleased to able to instruct the same barrister who had provided invaluable advice prior to the May Committee. Work now is focussing on the drafting of LHAG’s formal Proofs of Evidence by expert witnesses including an oil production consultant, an ecological consultant and a highways expert.
As much of this as possible is being done within the LHAG committee, but we are dealing with professionals and where we do not have, or cannot beg, appropriate levels of specialist expertise, we have to buy it in.
This, and the legal fees, is why we need to raise £50,000 in such a short period of time.
Since 2005, it has been possible to appoint a barrister directly, without the need to involve solicitors. In order to save costs, this has been the approach taken by LHAG. This means that all the work ordinarily done by solicitors – reviewing thousands of pages of documents, organising case files, setting up briefs – is being undertaken by committee members of LHAG. Once again, it has fallen on the shoulders of a few volunteers to undertake hundreds and hundreds of man-hours of work in their spare time.
The Public Inquiry is now set to run from 10th to 20th July in Dorking Halls. The more people that can attend and show support, the better. Once again, it is crucial that we all demonstrate to the decision-makers the depth of feeling on this application.
As you can see, this fight has been going on a long time and we’ll keep on fighting it. We have commitment and we have expertise. With your help, we’ll finish this.
Fundraising Committee, The Leith Hill Action Group
To feed back, ask questions or offer help, contact Patrick Nolan at firstname.lastname@example.org
The show, “For Goodness Sake!”, on Friday 15th June, starring Virginia McKenna, a fabulous mix of music and dramatic set pieces, can be booked through the box office at Dorking Halls by phoning 01306 881717, or following this link to Dorking Halls’ website.
We have a special deal for those joining the LHAG team for the Moonriders London-Brighton cycle ride, on Friday 29th June, saving you £71 in total. See our Moonriders webpage for details.
Sign up for the LHAG 10km run on Sunday 1st July(and guarantee yourself the advance price of £12, rather than the turn-up price of £15) by visiting our LHAG 10km webpage.
There are a number of ways in which you can make a donation:
Donating by Direct Transfer
You can make a direct transfer to the LHAG account (name “Leith Hill Action Group”) using sort code 09-01-27 and account 3767 8874.
Donating by Cheque
Make cheques payable to “Leith Hill Action Group” and send to:
Patrick Nolan, Head of LHAG Fundraising, Oak Lodge, Anstie Lane, Surrey, RH5 6HA.
Donating by Credit Card, Debit Card or PayPal
You can donate by the card of your choice or even directly from your PayPal account by clicking the button below. (Some email packages may not allow you to see/use this button without further intervention. If this is the case, please visit the home page of our website where you will also be able to donate using this facility.)
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