Drilling threat to Leith Hill – a response to the planning inspectorate

There is a threat to drill for oil on Leith Hill -the landscape that inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams to write “Lark Ascending”.

This is the email response written by Guildford Greenbelt Group in relation to that application which wrote:

” to object to proposal APP/B3600/A/11/2166561 at Leith Hill on behalf of the membership of Guildford Greenbelt Group.

This is land in the AONB, in Green Belt outside the settlement boundary.

Under NPPF80 Green Belt should protect countryside from encroachment, under NPPF79 the fundamental aim of Green Belt is to prevent sprawl by keeping land permanently open; essential characteristics of Green Belt are openness and permanence. This development would fail all these tests. It is inappropriate development in the Green Belt.
Under NPPF87 inappropriate development is by definition harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances which have not been demonstrated in this case. There is insufficient benefit likely to be derived to justify this inappropriate development. The chances of finding oil are very limited. It has been estimated that there is a 1 in 3 chance of finding oil, which is an inadequate justification for damage within the AONB and GreenBelt. Under NPPF 88 “When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. “Very special circumstances” will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.”. Since the possibility of finding oil is so slim, and since oil can be obtained elsewhere from other sources, this cannot constitute a very special circumstance.

The land in the area meets all the five purposes of Green Belt as set out in NPPF 80. To develop this land would be to encroach onto countryside included within Green Belt. As noted by NPPF 83, once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.

The site is in the AONB, and will create substantial harm to a tranquil area. Under NPPF 115 great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in the AONBs, which (like National Parks) have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all these areas.

This is a major development in an AONB. AONBs have the same level of landscape protection as National Parks, and major developments should be refused in AONBs except in exceptional circumstances and where the development can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. There are no such exceptional circumstances and this is most definitely not in the public interest, as demonstrated by over 2000 letters of objection received by Surrey County Council to the development. It should be noted that in the Surrey County Council summary of the area it notes that long distance views are a feature of the area; Leith Hill is of course a major tourist attraction of historic and heritage significance and of scenic importance. http://new.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/23678/2.43-Wealden-Greensand.pdf

Under NPPF 147, minerals planning authorities are required to distinguish clearly between exploration, appraisal and production, and consider constraints on production and processing. Under NPPF 143 and 144, when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should ensure that there are no adverse impacts on the natural or historic environment.

The proposed drilling is within the zone of influence of the Leith Hill SSSI and will have adverse impact on the wildlife. See citation: http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1000922.pdf
There are a number of rare species of wildlife in the area, including red-listed birds such as the firecrest. In fact, Leith Hill Action Group reports that this particular area includes an estimated 0.8% of the whole of the UK’s remaining firecrests and 12% of the local population of this species, which we can ill afford to lose. Such rare birds do not simply resettle elsewhere when they are disturbed – that is why they are so rare in the first place.
Under NPPF 117 and 118, proposed development within or outside an SSSI likely to have an adverse effect on an SSSI should not normally be permitted. Under NPPF 118, planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioriation of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland.

The proposed drilling will take place in an area containing important aquifers and thus risks polluting the water supply.

The development’s 1000+ HGV movements will cause material harm to the delicate sunken lane, which is viewed by the Surrey Hills AONB board as being an intrinsic feature of the AONB.

No traffic management system is feasible, and HGVs will inevitably come into serious conflict with cyclists and pedestrians as well as car users. Given the recent increase in popularity of Coldharbour Lane as a cycling hotspot, there is clear potential for danger to life. There is also serious danger to schoolchildren trying to navigate between Knoll Road and both Powell Corderoy and The Priory schools.

The prospect can be surveyed just as well from a site using lateral drilling techniques. Such alternatives would not have all these problems. If there is oil, it could still be explored and extracted by lateral well structures, with permission limited in the context of the environmental consequences and the impact on the AONB, visually and in terms of traffic movements. Permission should not be granted so as to maximise the profit of the oil company at the expense of the AONB and the population who use it.

As a result this should not be given planning permission. GGG considers that no special circumstances apply which should lead to permission being given.

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