An anti-fracking demonstration will be held in Horsham before plans for continued exploratory drilling in Balcombe are heard by the county council this morning (Tuesday April 29).
West Sussex County Council’s Planning Committee will decide Cuadrilla’s application for temporary permission to flow test at the Lower Stumble Exploration Site off London Road.
Anti-fracking campaigners are expected to protest in force outside Horsham’s County Hall North in Chart Way before the meeting gets underway.
Cuadrilla previously had temporary planning permission for exploratory drilling followed by flow testing and monitoring activities, but this expired in September 2013.
Protests at Balcombe gained national media attention last summer amidst fears that exploratory drilling could be the first step towards the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at the site.
The technique involves pumping water and chemicals underground at high pressure to split apart porous shale rock to release trapped oil or gas.
Cuadrilla have made repeated assurances that they have no intention of fracking, but FFBRA fear that if significant energy deposits are found at Balcombe the license for the area could be sold to another company who might frack.
Almost 900 letters of objection have been received and campaign group Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA) will speak against the application tomorrow.
Prior to today’s meeting Charles Metcalfe, chairman of the FFBRA, said: “For the Weald, this Balcombe planning application is a thin end of the wedge.
“This will be an emblematic planning decision that may determine whether a whole lot of other oil and gas companies pile in afterwards – or think twice.
“It’s a decision that will affect communities right across Sussex, Kent, Surrey and Hampshire, and of course beyond. We shall fight.”
Helz Cuppleditch of Frack Free Sussex added: “This issue goes beyond Balcombe. The government seems to believe that oil and gas should be extracted from more and more difficult places.
“But these are dirty fossil fuels which we should not be burning. The only ones to benefit will be the companies pushing this. Local people don’t want it on their doorstep. The risks are too high.”
Several campaigners, including Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, were arrested, but cleared of obstructing a public highway during the protests last summer.
Protesters are expected to gather at 10am before the meeting starts at 10.30am. Spaces are limited.
Due to the limited public space, the meeting is being webcast live and can be viewed here.
For a full report of the meeting and reaction see this Thursday’s Mid Sussex Times and West Sussex County Times.