What an amateur outfit Surrey County Council’s virtual remote planning meeting turned out to be yesterday – Monday – when councillors narrowly refused UK Oil & Gas PLC’s bid to appraise a well site on High Loxley Road near Dunsfold aerodrome.
The proposed site sits almost on the doorstep of Waverley’s highly acclaimed Government backed garden village – soon to boast circa 3,000 new homes. In fact it appeared that if approved the garden villagers – could literally have oil/gas wells in/under their back gardens.
Whilst we have provided the link at the bottom of the post to enable you to listen to the meeting – this comes with a health warning!
DON’T unless you have a strong stomach for a buffering, during an often incoherent webcast – and a decision-making process of a never-to-be-forgotten variety, which was at best amateur and at worst unconstitutional. Councillors at one point sought to dump the reasons for refusal onto the rapidly slumping shoulders of the very same planning officers who had recommended approval of the scheme.
Cranleigh and Ewhurst county councillor Andrew Povey put up a strong show giving over-riding reasons why UKOG should be sent packing; He had the backing of almost every town and parish council in the area – including ‘Your Waverley’ tucked under his belt.
- SCC highways had erected signs in the road – ‘Unsuitable for HGV’s.’ So while its own professional highway engineers had deemed the road unsuitable, others proposed giving the green light to more HGV’s!
The road – by nature of he chevrons around its 90 degree bends was – according to county engineers – very dangerous.
- The area was in an Area of Great Landscape Value – which by Surrey’s own definition was to be treated as AONB – An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
(The site nestles against a backcloth of the Hascombe Hills.)
- County council officers had described the proposed works as posing a ‘seriously incongruous feature’ in the countryside.
- Development would have a serious impact on the rural economy.
How, he asked, could a nearby wedding venue with a multi-million turnover running public events which used flares operate at the same time as the proposed search for gas? The idea is ‘quite preposterous’ to site such an operation, strongly opposed by everyone locally including Waverley Council and the developers of the new Dunsfold Garden Village.
Although backed many of his colleagues, -Cllr Ernest Mallett the member for Molesey argued the council would be shirking its responsibilities if it refused officers’ advice – which included approval of highway engineers.
“If we make a decision here today that does not have some very solid reasons then we could be in for £200,000 worth of costs. We will be very vulnerable at appeal and in my 15 years of serving on this committee I have always considered it a golden rule that you cannot base a refusal on highway grounds that goes against highways’ advice.”
*SCC’s highways supported the application.
Cllr Mallett said: ‘It seems to be the view in this part of Surrey that you can use oil and gas, but not be subjected to any inconvenience! Weddings and events can take place here with upwards of 80 cars and lorries ferrying equipment to and from the venue – for which the council has given permission, without controls. But 10/20 lorry movements are a danger, despite traffic controls and enforceable conditions. Should this go to appeal the county council will be decimated.”
He warned his colleagues by refusing what he described as “an insignificant operation” the committee would be in danger of dealing with it on a ‘special basis’ – or in a way that no other oil or gas application had been dealt with by the authority. It was not near other buildings, was 300 metres away from the Gipsy sites and the wedding events buildings. To believe that the wedding venue would disappear was fanciful – when two huge areas had permission for ‘clear fell’ using large tree-moving vehicles on the same road?
‘How are you going to defend that when you go before an Inspector?” he asked? “We could be slaughtered at appeal.”
Stephen Cooksey (Dorking South & Holmwoods) said the threat of an appeal would not convince him to support refusal – which was in line with all the parish and local district councils. Why? he asked weren’t the gipsies consulted – when the impact on them and the new garden village would be critical.
It was then – after the application was refused by six votes to five – a muddled and confusing counting procedure followed – that the streaming of the meeting was halted – to give time for the actual grounds for refusal to be agreed upon.
This statement from UK Oil & Gas PLC (London AIM: UKOG) followed:
“We note that Surrey County Council (“SCC”) has today refused consent for the Company’s Loxley-1 appraisal project. The company is carefully considering its position but has concerns over the validity of the decision given the meeting’s conduct, the lack of specific reasons for refusal and reasons why the planning officer’s recommendation was overturned. It is likely that UKOG will appeal the decision via the planning inspectorate.
Stephen Sanderson, UKOG’s Chief Executive, commented:
” We are obviously disappointed by Surrey County Council’s refusal of planning consent for our Loxley-1 appraisal project. The refusal was by a narrow 6-5 decision and against the Planning Officer’s recommendation. Unfortunately, the precise reason or reasons for refusal and why the Planning Officer’s recommendation was overturned, remain unclear, which is less than ideal. The meeting’s general structure and conduct also opens up further questions on the validity of the decision. We also note that the Environment Agency granted the scheme a full environmental permit on 26 June covering all environmental aspects of the proposed scheme.
Furthermore, we note that the meeting’s main discussion centred around a possible highways issue regarding the suitability of the Dunsfold road adjoining the site to accommodate the envisaged traffic flows. However, the County Highways and Planning Officers supported this aspect of the application, stating that the traffic mitigation plan would permit safe use of the road during operations.
Here’s what Alfold villagers think. Strange though – the Hon Angela opposes and the Hon Jeremy stays schtum!