13 October 2017
Stop the Leith Hill oil drilling!
Hello to all our supporters.
Since our Newsletter 53, we have been in correspondence with a councillor of Mole Valley District Council (“MVDC”), who objected to the following paragraph:
In the last week or so, however, Europa have resubmitted the TMS [Traffic Management Scheme] (with virtually no changes) and SCC officers have again put it on the agenda for the 18th October Planning & Regulatory Committee at 10:30am. Incredibly, Mole Valley District Council have already rushed the revised TMS through their own planning committee with no warning, having first disqualified from voting key councillors that had previously objected to the TMS. It’s hard to see this as anything other than the most blatant of swindles, but that is the system we appear to be working in.
We regret implying that the revised TMS was voted in favour of by MVDC. In fact, members of the MVDC planning committee neither approved nor rejected the TMS, instead choosing not to vote on the grounds that remaining concerns are sufficiently numerous that a vote was unnecessary. We are grateful that the elected members of MVDC, at least, are aware enough of the issues not to be bounced into approving an inappropriate traffic management scheme.
We do not regret stating, however, that the TMS was rushed through the process, and that the public will see such a rush job as swindling them out of their right to give input into development in their local community (notwithstanding, as we also explicitly pointed out, that this is actually the system we appear to be working in).
The following facts have been confirmed from our correspondence, as well as by our review of the video footage of the council meeting. We present them for our supporters to understand why we make such a claim.
1) Councillors on the planning committee did not know that the agenda would include the TMS and fencing applications before the evening of the committee meeting. This does not represent reasonable preparation time. In the meeting itself, it was suggested that members, many of whom had only just become aware of the change of agenda, should have “ten minutes” in order to familiarise themselves with the considerable details of both TMS and fencing applications. This is clearly inappropriate – such a complex set of proposals requires considerable preparation.
Placing this on the agenda at the last minute also denied the public all opportunity to take part in the decision making process. We would hope it is very clear that all elements of this application are extremely contentious and the public want full visibility that due process is being followed in full.
2) Planning officers were also given very little time to review the extremely complex issues involved in this case, although they had received the information in the week before the planning meeting, , and publicly acknowledged that they “did not have the opportunity to do almost any of the work they normally would have done.” This means that they had not analysed Europa’s own figures that show it is impossible for them to complete their project within its 18 week window, nor undertaken due diligence on any of the other contradictions and problems LHAG have identified with the TMS. Neither had they sought consultation with LHAG or anybody else who have been performing this analysis in order to understand the issues involved.
As we noted above, it is fortunate that councillors were sufficiently alert to this lack of preparation as to not vote in favour of the TMS. However, without the proper work being done in advance – and without warning the public that this issue was about to be debated – this could quite feasibly have gone the other way. Councillors were being asked to vote on something whilst being given misleading facts. At one point, for example, the council officer tells the committee that the aluminium trackway will reduce lorry traffic by 90%. Fortunately, Councillor Cooksey on the planning committee was able to correct this and explain that during the actual main drill development, the aluminium trackway doesn’t reduce any traffic at all. If Councillor Cooksey hadn’t been so independently well-informed, the planning committee would have been voting on advice that traffic was about 10% of its actual volume for most of the 18 week period.
And the vote did go the other way regarding the fencing applications, where it is apparent that not all relevant information had been given by ill-prepared planning officers to ill-prepared councillors. It is clear from the discussions that there was a distinct lack of understanding of the planning issues at hand. For example, the same councillor who objected to Newsletter 53 told us in email correspondence, “I think it is emphatically a good thing to keep the drill site and any members of the public who may want to enter the drill site separate, for their own safety.”
The criterion for judging this application is not whether a fence is a good idea. Rather, it is whether the planning rules surrounding development in AONBs and Green Belt have been adhered to. We have already set out in our Newsletter 49 on 3rd June why this is not the case. Please click here to see past newsletters, including Newsletter 49.
3) Justification for the rush job was provided to us as follows: “We knew SCC was considering this item on 18th. Please note we are not part of SCC [Surrey County Council] and cannot control what they do and when. The choices were to discuss it on Wednesday night or not at all.” We would like to point out that if the choice is to do something improperly with the risk of critical failure or to not do it at all then clearly the best choice is to not do it at all. If SCC wish to blunder headlong into the dubious territory of rushing such a contentious and flawed TMS and a legally dubious fencing application to their planning committee, that in no way requires MVDC to do the same.
We would like to note for the record that MVDC have up to now had an excellent track record of treating this application with the seriousness it deserves, and we hope they continue to do so.