Planners back Dunsfold drilling site despite 80% public opposition.
‘Localism’ is finally dead – buried by the county council?
A report just published recommends the application be approved by the county council’s planning committee next week.
It acknowledged that the site is in a sensitive landscape and that the scheme would bring a “more industrialised feel” to the area. There would also be an adverse effect on local businesses.
WW No problem there then? Just more traffic, on a road serving a business park at Dunsfold airfield and a new Garden Village just about to be built there!
Concerns about “virtual” committee
The publication of the report has surprised local people. They had expected the decision would be made at the end of June.
Now the application will be decided at Surrey’s first virtual planning committee meeting, conducted online because of coronavirus restrictions, on 21 May.
WW understands councillors will not go on a site visit. Instead, they will be shown drone footage of the proposed site.
A spokesperson for the local campaign group, Protect Dunsfold, said:
UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) is seeking planning permission to drill vertical and sidetrack wells on a 2.3ha farmland site, one mile from the village.
The wells would explore for gas in the Portland sandstone and oil in the deeper Kimmeridge limestone.
The site is just outside the Green Belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
It is part of an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).
The nearest home, Thatched House Farm, is 330m from the site. It supports a number of businesses and hosts an internationally-recognised cancer awareness festival each year.
Another property, High Billinghurst Farm, is a venue for weddings, funerals and other functions.
A traveller site and mobile home park are about 485m from the centre of the well site compound. A new settlement has also been approved for land nearby at Dunsfold Park.
UKOG’s application is for three years and would involve four phases of work:
- access and well site construction – 14 weeks
- drilling, testing and appraisal using a 38m high rig– 60 weeks
- plugging, abandonment and decommissioning – 5 weeks
- restoration – 5 weeks
The company has said the maximum number of movements by heavy goods vehicle would be 20 per day.
A 30m wide bell-mouth and 1km access track would connect the well site to a new junction onto High Loxley Road. 55 m of hedgerow and two trees would be removed. The carriageway at the junction of High Loxley Road and Dunsfold Road would be extended by up to 0.9m on all sides and strengthened to allow vehicles to turn into the site. There would also be road widening at Pratts corner.
An application for an alternative access route was withdrawn by UKOG in March 2020.
According to the report, a public consultation on the application produced 469 written representations and four petitions. 78% of comments (367) were against the scheme.
Waverley Borough Council and Dunsfold, Bramley, Alford, Witley and Cranleigh parish councils all objected, some of them strongly. Local groups, including Campaign to Protect Rural England, Waverley Friends of the Earth and Surrey Wildlife Trust have also objected.
The borough council objected on 17 separate grounds. The council was particularly concerned that predicted noise would be above background levels, especially at night.
Surrey Wildlife Trust objected to the impact on climate change, ecology and the natural environment.
Dunsfold Aerodrome said the application had not properly considered the existing and proposed uses at Dunsfold Park, including the current operational airfield.
The Surrey Hills AONB said the proposal would “would be a seriously incongruous feature in the Area of Great Landscape Value and compensation should be provided if mitigation is insufficient”.
Other concerns raised by the consultation included:
- Proposal is against government policy
- Errors and incomplete information in the application
- Lack of economic benefits
- Unacceptable impact on local amenity and businesses
- Landscape and visual impacts
- Noise, air quality, lighting
- Risk to highway safety at Pratts Corner junction and High Loxley/Dunsfold road junction
- Impact on ecology, archaeology, heritage and rights of way
- Clear felling on nearby woodland would expose the well
There were also calls for a restoration bond to ensure money was available to restore the site.
Just over a fifth of comments (102) supported the application. The main reasons given included:
- Economic benefits
- Reduced carbon footprint of domestically-produced oil and gas
- Low visual presence, noise and access
There was no objection from the Environment Agency, Natural England, Surrey Highway Authority, Surrey ecologist and countryside access team.
No surprise there then!
And here’s the local man behind the cunning plan, who lives just far enough away not to be bothered by the development. The elderly owner of the land in Dunsfold died recently.