Part 2 of the public inquiry into plans for gas exploration in Dunsfold.
If allowed: More HGV’s for the eastern villages: More light pollution and environmental damage and yet another blow for the proposed development of the proposed new Dunsfold Garden Village.
Planning rules require that permission is granted to comply with the development plan, unless “material considerations indicate otherwise”.
Surrey County Council
“The appeal proposal is in conflict with a number of development plan policies.”
Ms Wigley said these included:
- Surrey Minerals Plan policies MC15 (ii) and MC15 (iii) because the highway network was not of an appropriate standard for use by the traffic generated by the development and could not be made appropriate. The development would have a significant impact on highway safety, she said.
- Surrey Minerals Plan policy MC14 (iii) because there would be a significant adverse impact on the appearance, quality and character of the landscape. There was also insufficient information for a proper assessment of landscape impacts
- Surrey Minerals Plan policy MC12 because the site identification report was “entirely inadequate” to demonstrate that the site had been selected to minimise adverse impacts on the environment.
- Waverley Borough Local Plan policy RE3 states that the setting of the AONB will be protected where development outside its boundaries harms public views from or into the AONB
- National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 111 because of the “unacceptable impact on highway safety
- NPPF 174 (a) and (b) because of landscape impacts
- NPPF 211 (e) because restoration and aftercare would not be carried out at the earliest opportunity
- NPPF 176 because the proposal constituted “insensitive development in the setting of the AONB”. The adverse impacts on the AONB should be accorded great weight in the planning balance.
Mr Elvin said the proposal complied with national and local planning policy. He referred to:
NPPF 209: “It is essential that there is a sufficient supply of minerals to provide the…energy… that the country needs. Since minerals are a finite natural resource and can only be worked where they are found, best use needs to be made of them to secure their long-term conservation.”
NPPF 211: Great weight should be given to the benefits of mineral extraction.
NPPF 215: Decision-makers are encouraged to distinguish between the different phases of onshore gas development. It also states they should “plan positively” for them.
He disputed there were conflicts with Surrey Minerals Plan policies. Even if there were some “residual conflict”, he said, “it would be outweighed by the benefits generated by the appeal proposals together with other material considerations”. He said policy MC12 does not require a comparative assessment of sites.
Site identification report
Surrey County Council
“The Site Identification Report is woefully inadequate to demonstrate how the site has been selected and to demonstrate in any respect that it is the least worst in environmental terms. It simply does not show whether or how adverse impacts on the environment have been minimised by site selection.”
Ms Wigley criticised aspects of the report, including:
- Technical constraints of drilling not set out
- The sieving process was “entirely opaque” and no “clarity” about how judgements were made in short-listing sites
- Unclear how the proposed site, with policy and environmental constraints, made it to the shortlist
- No objective comparison between the 23 shortlisted sites
- No landscape or highways expertise used in site selection
“Where a proposal is in breach of development plan policies, will cause planning … and is sought to be justified by need, the availability of alternative sites is very likely to be an important material planning consideration.”
Waverley Borough Council
Mr Arthur said:
“The alternative site selection is not considered to be robust, the absolute need to utilise this site has not been justified.”
“There is no general requirement for decision-makers to consider alternatives in respect of planning applications outside of EIA or certain specific kinds of development such as communications masts.”
A site selection report was not a formal requirement in Surrey Minerals Plan, Mr Elvin said
“[It] was in fact a record of the wider site search process which he carried out on behalf of the Appellant. That process was not targeted at finding the “least worst site” but was about finding areas of lesser environmental and policy constraint within an area where the technical requirements of the project could be met.”
He said neither Surrey County Council nor Waverley Borough Council had identified other available sites with a smaller environmental impact. He said:
“the Site has been selected to minimise adverse impacts, having regard to the physical constraints of the geology and the location of the maximum gas concentration.”
If permission were granted, Surrey County Council said the duration of the development should be limited by a condition of 20 months, not the 36 months applied for.
Ms Wigley said:
“Contingency on contingency is provided in the programme, including significant time for procurement delays, preparation of tenders, final tender evaluation, contract preparation and regulatory processes all of which can be undertaken pre-commencement and which do not need to prolong the harmful landscape and highways effects.”
She said the proposed retention period of 26 weeks “serves no useful purposes”. It would not allow time to apply for production permission but it did, she said, “unacceptably lengthen the harmful landscape and highway effects of this application”. The three-period was not justified, she said.
Mr Elvin said the proposed 20-month duration was “not acceptable and should be rejected. He said the issue had not been raised earlier by Surrey County Council officers or councillors. It was inconsistent with the approach taken by the council at the company’s Horse Hill site, Mr Elvin said.
“3 years is the period which the Appellant considers is reasonably required to carry out the various phases of works described in the planning statement and to build in flexibility for delays and issues arising as well as allowing time for appraisal of the results.”
“it is acknowledged that there is significant potential for contingencies. Nonetheless, if the operation can be concluded earlier then it will.”
Benefits and need
The company argued that significant weight should be given to benefits of the proposal for UK security of gas supply, economic benefits of production, and reducing imports and carbon emissions.
Mr Elvin said national and local policy recognised a “compelling need” for exploration and exploitation of new gas reserves. It was an “essential plank” of the government’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions, he said.
“it cannot be ignored that this application is an essential prerequisite to securing such benefits and without it they cannot be obtained. The application should therefore be viewed in that context and in the light of the fact that Government energy policy requires the continuation of a secure energy supply and the production of gas notwithstanding climate change issues and the move towards Net Zero by 2050.”
Surrey County Council
Ms Wigley said planning practice guidance stated that applications for exploration should “not take account of hypothetical future activities for which consent has not yet been sought. All the claimed benefits of extraction to which Mr Moore accords significant weight fall within the category of ‘hypothetical future activities’ which cannot be taken into account.”
She accused the company’s planning consultant of a “have cake and eat it” line by not taking into account adverse environmental effects of production.
She also said economic benefits described by UKOG’s chief executive, Stephen Sanderson, were “irrelevant” to the hearing because they were potential benefits of a future application. Most of the £6-£7m investment in exploration at Loxley would be for specialist equipment and expertise, available only nationally or internationally. She said: “Any ancillary local investment is entirely unquantified and unparticularised.”
Waverley Borough Council
“Alternatives to meeting the nations energy needs in a more sustainable form are already available. The production and use of fossil fuels will harm the environment; this is now an undisputed fact. Any appraisal of the national benefit of these resources must be balanced against the cost to wider society and the harm to the fragile environment we live in.”
High Billinghurst Farm
The inquiry heard evidence about the impact of the proposed site and roadworks on a wedding venue at High Billinghurst Farm and the approach along High Loxley Road.
“only a small portion of High Loxley Road will be affected by the widening and junction works and the creation of the access. These impacts will be limited to the life of the permission and that portion will not be visible from HBF itself.”
Daily HGV movements would be limited by planning conditions and restricted to before 1 pm on Friday and Saturdays, Mr Elvin said. Site operational noise would be low, he said, and below that allowed by the wedding venue.
He also said there was no evidence that the drilling rig would be visible from the part of High Billinghurst Farm used as a wedding venue.
Thatched House Farm
The owner of Thatched House Farm had told the inquiry that UKOG’s measurement for the distance of the site from his home was inaccurate.
Mr Elvin said:
“This is not the case. As is clearly set out, Thatched House Farm has been measured to be 320m between the centre of the well site and the exterior wall of the receptor. This is the relevant metric, representing as it does the distance between the acoustic centre of the noise producing activity (which as can be seen from the plans the drilling activity may even be centred slightly further south) and the receptor itself.”
He said conditions would limit noise during day and night and levels would be judged close to the property.
Dunsfold Garden Village
The inquiry had also heard that the UKOG proposals could put off people from buying homes on the new housing estate at Dunsfold Aerodrome. There were also concerns about the potential impact on the Dunsfold travellers’ site.
Waverley Borough Council
“Environmental searches conducted on behalf of prospective purchasers of property in the area by their legal advisors are already being alerted to the prospect of onshore oil and gas exploration and production. The perception of operations associated with gas and oil extraction under the site may be a deterrent to some purchasers – even if fracking is not part of the extraction process.”
“it is clear that any concerns which prospective purchasers would have here would not be material given that (a) such concerns would be baseless and (b) the concerns are plainly at nowhere near a high enough level to discourage the occupation of such dwellings.”
The inquiry heard evidence that the proposal contradicted climate change policy.
Mr Elvin said continued reliance on gas was an essential part of government thinking on energy and climate change mitigation.
Mr Arthur referred to last week’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which said the world was at “code red” on climate change. Mr Arthur said:
“there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. A further reduction in the exploration and mining of gas and oil has been made possible as renewable energy, biofuel and hydrogen technologies and outputs have developed and increased significantly in the past ten years.”
Fracking: Mr Elvin said this was not an application for fracking – the target rock was already fractured.
Common land: Waverley Borough Council remained concerned that highway work would encroach on common land.
Bond: Waverley Borough Council continued to ask for a bond to ensure that highway and landscape is restored within the timescales agreed.