18 March 2017
Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!
Hello to all our supporters.
Urgent breaking news!
In Newsletter 47 just a few weeks ago, we reminded you that the number one defence Europa relied upon for why they should be allowed to drill was their insistence that they could complete the whole thing within an 18 week period. We repeatedly pushed against this during the Public Inquiry, expressing scepticism that it was possible. However, Europa never faltered in their firm assertion that this was what they could and would do. The Inspector cited the 18 week period as the key mitigation that justified all the harms he acknowledged would occur as a result of the drilling.
Incredibly, we have just learned that Surrey County Council has received AND APPROVED a brand new TEN MONTH application for the installation of security fencing, a security cabin and the closing of the access track and a large part of the drill site! This rushed approval gives Europa the right to start this at any date from 23 March (next Thursday)!
This new fencing is permitted to last up to six months before the start of the 18 week period of the drilling project. That means that the site can be closed to the public for ten months, with a continuous presence of personnel on site.
Surrey County Council officers have waved this application through as “permitted development”. We think this is a breathtakingly cynical way to avoid subjecting it to public scrutiny and avoid it having to pass through the normal planning processes.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t there already an application for a fence?
Correct! Europa applied last year for additional planning permission for considerable additional industrialisation to the site, including a security fence, additional visibility and an increase to the site area of 25%. This original fencing application was for the 18 week period and is being considered by Surrey County Council's Planning & Regulatory Committee on 22 March (next Wednesday).
The original application for the drilling was subject to formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) because of its location in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At the request of Europa and Surrey County Council, the Secretary of State (for Communities and Local Government) issued a Direction that the 18-week fencing application need not be subject to EIA. LHAG has challenged that decision, because we believe it is not in accordance with the requirements of EIA Regulations.
Subsequently Europa also applied for that same additional Security Fencing development but for a 52-week period. The Secretary of State decreed that the 52-week application does require EIA.
Three days after that, we now learn, the “permitted development” notice that has just come to light was issued to Surrey by Europa. Surrey County Council opined that no EIA was required for the new application, but this seems contrary to everything we know about the nature of EIA requirements.
We have asked the Secretary of State to reconsider his Screening Direction in relation to the 18-week fencing before the planning meeting on 22nd, and to align it with his Direction on the 52-week fencing. We will now, as a matter of urgency, ask the Secretary of State for a Screening Direction countermanding officers’ opinion in relation to this new “permitted development”.
What can we do?
I’m sure you view this piece of shameful manoeuvring by Europa and Surrey County Council officers as being as reprehensible and disgraceful as we do at LHAG. Not only have they waved it through without any of the proper scrutiny, they have only made the fact more widely known mere days before it goes live. Consequently, it is difficult to say what the proper response should be for the general public.
We are chasing up the legal channels. Meanwhile, maybe you know somebody in the media who might be interested in the story of a council going behind the backs of the public in such a controversial development? Or maybe you know of councillors who might be interested in the fact that their officers are doing contentious things in their name without going through a proper consultation process? Or maybe you would just like to let Surrey County Council know exactly what you think of this piece of chicanery. At this point, we can only leave it to you to decide how you should respond.