Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!
Hello to all our supporters.
The protest camp at Bury Hill Wood and the march to Leith Hill Tower on Saturday are attracting a lot of attention. Whilst we do not use the same means to achieve them, there is a lot of overlap between our aims and those of these other groupings who have organised these actions (though we mostly stop short of the total overthrow of bourgeois democracy and the capitalist system!) The cause for which we have been working for nearly eight years now is experiencing a revived level of interest, and that is welcome. That cause is the one issue that all the groups are united on: stopping the despoliation of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty.
So if we don’t organise camps and marches, what do we do? We fight the proposed development through the planning and legal system. Quite simply, if it was not for LHAG, this development would have happened in 2009 and quite probably we would by now have a quiet little “nodding donkey” farm on the Hill – and a prime Surrey sunken lane would have been permanently trashed.
We started by asking questions about what was proposed – to the extent that the application, which otherwise would have quietly slipped through in March 2009, was not heard by the planning authority (Surrey County Council) until May 2011. Surrey’s planning officers recommended approval. We took legal advice, organised representations and speakers at the hearing. And we won.
Europa appealed and the matter went to the first Public Inquiry in 2012. This is where it started to cost real money as we needed to employ a barrister and professional consultants to supplement the efforts of our own committee members. Again, we won. (Surrey County Council were nominally on the same side as us, defending their Committee’s decision).
Europa appealed to the High Court on a point of law. The Secretary of State was obliged to defend his Inspector’s decision – but a change in planning guidance (from that same Secretary of State) the day before the High Court hearing caused him to withdraw 95% of his defence. Surrey County Council, named as second defendant, declined to defend. LHAG got itself joined into the action as third defendant. This time, in 2013, we lost and the Inspector’s decision was overturned.
We went to the Court of Appeal in 2014, and lost again.
So the matter went to a second Public Inquiry in 2015 – another two weeks in Dorking Halls. Surrey County Council had no choice but to nominally defend their Committee’s decision, but it was LHAG who landed the blows which appeared to demolish Europa’s case – particularly with respect to traffic impacts. It was a genuine surprise when the second Inspector’s decision came: he granted permission.
So, game over? Nothing left for LHAG to do? No. The Inspector attached over twenty Conditions to his approval. A number of these have to be discharged before the development can start. It is not automatic that they will be discharged. (The Inspector said of the Traffic Management Scheme presented to the Inquiry “I cannot see how this can possibly work” and left the production of a workable scheme as a pre-condition. So in 2016 LHAG has been critiquing the proposals for discharge and intervening whenever they have not been consistent with the approval and conditions.
The current profusion of letters being received from Surrey County Council by anybody who has written in the about the scheme all relate to these Conditions. Each condition generally requires its own planning application, presenting further opportunities for the public to pass comment. The Conditions currently being actively considered are numbers 14 (Landscape and Restoration, SCC Ref 2016/0194) and 20 (Pre- and Post-development Condition Surveys, SCC Ref 2016/0193). We are not asking for you to take any action on these two rather technical Conditions. LHAG will be reviewing the detail and feeding any comments we have back to SCC.
LHAG have certainly had some successes, notably when Surrey’s planning officers proposed to approve Europa’s plan to start stripping all vegetation from the site in September, before any of the other pre-commencement conditions had been discharged. We objected that this drove a coach and horses through the Condition imposed that the exploration site should be for no more than 18 weeks start to finish. If we had not been there, the site would already have been stripped.
We still haven’t seen a draft of the Traffic Management Scheme...
The other big issue for us all is the additional proposal to increase the site area by more than 25% to install an additional layer of security fencing, more on site accommodation, more offices, and a canteen (SCC/2016/0170 – Perimeter Security Fencing – which was applied for in October). Thank you for writing so many letters of objection to this application. A consequence of your response has been a delay in SCC making their decision as they have had to go back to Europa to check on certain issues that you raised in your letters.
Surrey’s officers think that despite the massive increase in site area and additional buildings, this application does not require an Environmental Impact Assessment and have obtained a “screening direction” from the Secretary of State to that effect. We think this is not in accordance with the relevant Regulations and, more importantly, that it is by no means obvious that the Inspector’s decision to grant permission in 2015 would have been the same if presented with this larger proposal with much greater visual impact.
The only remedy is Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s screening direction. (There is no appeal against any decision by SCC to grant permission – only an unsuccessful developer can appeal.) If LHAG is to pursue this, we will need to raise more money. Through the efforts of some great fundraisers we have raised almost £110,000; we have spent most of it. Of course it is not only LHAG who could launch Judicial Review – it is open to anyone.
So there we are; a quick Cook’s Tour of what LHAG is doing and has been doing for eight years.
We are grateful for your continuing support in every way. Time takes a toll on people who try to combine this sort of activity with the rest of their lives. If you think you have knowledge, skills or just intelligent enthusiasm to help with what we are doing, please get in touch.
Yours for LHAG