Leith Hill Action Group – Newsletter 28 (20th November 2014)  

Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!

Dear Supporters

It has been a few months since our last newsletter and we have a lot to tell you.  We have had the results of the Surrey Mirror Heart of the Community Awards, we have been working on our legal case, we have been making arguments to the parish council and we have been negotiating the terms of the upcoming appeal.  So without further ado, it’s time to tell you about it.

Heart of the Community Award Success!

First of all, we owe a big THANK YOU to everybody who voted for us in the Heart of the Community awards.  Your votes were not in vain!  In fact, we won the overall second prize – a fantastic £3,000.  This is an amazing achievement – out of 99 rival participants, your support meant we secured more votes than 98 of them!

This wonderful prize means that we have most of what we need to fight the upcoming Public Inquiry (of which more later).  However, we are still a bit short and so we are making one more push for funds.  We’ll be talking about this more in a future newsletter but if you would like to make a donation at this stage, it would be very welcome; details of how to do so are on our website – www.lhag.org.uk.

New Public Inquiry – Please Write and Object

Many of our supporters who kindly wrote to object to the original application will by now have received a letter from Surrey County Council referring to a new Public Inquiry.  As a reminder of how we got to this point:

·       We persuaded Surrey County Council to refuse the application

·       Europa appealed, resulting in a Public Inquiry that we won alongside Surrey County Council

·       Europa appealed again, this time to the High Court, and managed to strike the result of the Public Inquiry on a technicality

·       We appealed this decision at the Court of Appeal but unfortunately did not manage to restore the result of the Public Inquiry

·       As a consequence, we now need to have a whole new Public Inquiry

Surrey County Council in their letter have asked for fresh opinions to inform the new Public Inquiry.  As such, we are asking our supporters to write to let the Planning Inspectorate know that we all still object in the strongest terms to this planning application.  Important points to raise in a letter might be:

·       This is inappropriate development in the Green Belt, as it conflicts with the purposes of including land in the Green Belt and fails to maintain the openness of the Green Belt.

·       There is insufficient benefit likely to be derived to justify this inappropriate development, most particularly because there is only a 1 in 3 chance of finding any oil at all and, even if it is found, it will likely equate to little more than 0.01% of the UK’s annual oil needs over the next 25 years.

·       The site is in the AONB, and will create substantial harm to a tranquil area.  This is a major development in an AONB.  Major developments should be refused in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and where the development can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. There are no such exceptional circumstances and this is most definitely not in the public interest, as demonstrated by over 2000 letters of objection received by Surrey County Council to the development and in light of the likely size of oil find, if any.

·       The development’s 1000+ HGV movements will cause material harm to the delicate sunken lane, which is viewed by the Surrey Hills AONB board as being an intrinsic feature of the AONB. 

·       There are a number of rare species of wildlife in the area, including RSPB red-listed birds such as the firecrest.  In fact, we believe that this particular area includes an estimated 0.8% of the whole of the UK’s remaining firecrests and 12% of the local population of this species, which we can ill afford to lose.  Such rare birds do not simply resettle elsewhere when they are disturbed – that is why they are so rare in the first place.

·       The drilling will take place in an area containing important aquifers and thus risks polluting the water supply.

·       No traffic management system is feasible, and HGVs will inevitably come into serious conflict with cyclists and pedestrians as well as car users.  Given the recent increase in popularity of Coldharbour Lane as a cycling hotspot, there is clear potential for danger to life.  There is also serious danger to schoolchildren trying to navigate between Knoll Road and both Powell Corderoy and The Priory schools.

·       The prospect can be surveyed just as well from a site that does not have all of these problems and it is only financial considerations that are standing in the way of this.  If there is oil, it can still be explored and extracted but this should not be for the profit of the oil company and at the expense of the AONB and everyone who enjoys it

We know from engagement at all levels of the political spectrum that your letters play a massive part in ensuring that this kind of inappropriate development gets stopped, so please keep up the pressure.  You have until 9 December to get those letters into the Planning Inspectorate. 

If you are writing rather than emailing, please send 3 copies of your letter to Leanne Palmer, The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3/26 Hawk Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Bristol, BS1 6PN. 

If you are emailing, please email Leanne.Palmer@pins.gsi.gov.uk.

Second “Pan-handle” Application

Legal decisions that have occurred elsewhere in the time between the original Public Inquiry and this means that Europa now also have to make a second development application.  The original application is to drill down; now they also have to make an application to drill horizontally underground.  This second application is known as the “pan-handle” application, because the original site roughly forms a circle whilst the new application is the “handle” that connects to the circle.

We have been waiting to update you about the pan-handle application for many months now, but we still find ourselves as much in the dark as ever.  Europa have repeatedly failed to provide Surrey County Council with the full set of information they are obligated to provide as part of such an application and, understandably, Surrey County Council refuse to start the public consultation period until this information has been provided in full.  So we at LHAG still don’t know what the pan-handle application fully contains. 

We will continue to keep a close eye on this situation as it develops and, when the time comes, we will ask you to respond appropriately.

LHAG and Capel Parish Council

As part of the pan-handle application process and with a second Public Inquiry in the offing, Capel Parish Council (“CPC”) made a particular effort to invite interested members of the public to the council meeting in which Europa’s applications would be discussed.  CPC are a consulting party in the process, which means that their views are taken into consideration.

As a result, LHAG plus thirty to forty local residents attended the CPC meeting on 6 October and put forth their arguments.  A range of points were made, from technical points about the case, to discussions of need versus harm, to the weak financial state of Europa itself and its possible inability to actually make good on any promises to undertake quality remedial work for physical damage caused during the development. 

That meeting adjourned with CPC deciding it needed further clarification from Europa on a number of points.  This clarification having been obtained, a further meeting was held on 17 November, with LHAG once again in attendance.  In that meeting, the council discussed the responses in full but decided that it would continue to object to the original application and would also object to the pan handle application.

LHAG’s next steps

We are now preparing for the next Public Inquiry, whilst also paying close attention to developments in the pan-handle application.  We have to produce our Statement of Case within the next week or so, which has meant important decisions about which arguments we can and cannot afford to make.  We’ll talk about that more in a future newsletter once we have finalised the Statement.

In the meantime, please get writing those letters and many thanks, as always, for your continued support.

Patrick Nolan

The Leith Hill Action Group