Leith Hill Action Group – Newsletter 34 (27th May 2015)  

Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!

Dear Supporters

I am writing to you at an interesting pause in the Public Inquiry.  You may remember that this was supposed to run from 22nd April to 1st May (with a day’s break in the middle).  However, some of the cross-examination took longer than expected, meaning that we didn’t actually manage to finish in time.  As such, there is one more day to go… on 11th June!  This was the first day available that all parties could commit to and will consist of the summing up by each legal counsel.

So how has it gone so far?  Well – we think very well indeed. 

Week 1

First we had representations from members of the public.  There were some barnstorming performances here.  Amongst a range of good speakers, Will Travers spoke eloquently about the need to protect against creeping development and ecological damage; John Roberts delivered a crushing take on the state of Europa’s finances and the difficulties they would face in affording to pay for any remediation work in respect of damage caused; John Simpson covered the many problems that would face Coldharbour Lane and its residents, and Keith Sargent addressed the impact of Europa’s proposals on the residents of Knoll Road. 

Next we had Surrey’s landscape and planning witnesses.  Both showed a professional impartiality in assessing the value of the site itself and wider context, indicating both the positive and negative factors in this assessment.  Their conclusion was that the landscape value would be adversely affected by the development to a sufficient degree as to cause material harm to the AONB, and that this was major development without exceptional circumstances to justify it.  In cross-examination, both witnesses stood up to questions put to them with highly credible responses.

We also had a number of your local council representatives.  Hazel Watson and Stephen Cooksey as Surrey County Councillors made important points as to why this is such a problematic application.  Chris Robertson represented Mole Valley District Council and Paul Garber spoke for Capel Parish Council, also presenting a united front against the application.  Clive Smith of the Surrey Hills AONB  Board put an excellent planning case as to why the application should be refused.

It was my turn next to present LHAG’s evidence and be cross-examined by Europa’s QC.  I enjoyed the opportunity to pick holes in Europa’s case and am told by those who attended that day that the QC was unable to gainsay any of LHAG’s points.

Week 2

The second week of the Public Inquiry saw Europa’s witnesses on the stand.  There were some outrageous statements made during this week: 

So all in all, if this were a boxing match, I think we would be pretty confident that we won on “points”.  Public Inquiries, however, are not just decided by how the witnesses of each side perform.  The Inspector must see through the evidence presented and make his own mind up based on his knowledge, experience and interpretation.  He certainly handled the Public Inquiry in a fair and intelligent manner, so we can have faith that however he decides, it will be with full consideration of the facts.  In the meantime, we can have pride at having put our case about as well as it could have been put.

The result won’t be known for several months, but as soon as we know the outcome, we will let you know via a newsletter and our website (www.LHAG.org.uk).  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed in the meantime.

Patrick Nolan

The Leith Hill Action Group