Controversy continues as Balcombe Parish Council urges people to vote in latest oil exploration poll

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The issue of “to frack or not to frack” - or even to drill at all - has caused further waves in the village of Balcombe.

Balcombe Parish Council is urging people to return ballot papers for its new poll on village feelings about oil drilling in the light of the most recent planning application submitted by energy exploration company Cuadrilla Resources.

Because of a delay in the application being validated by West Sussex County Council, and the imminent publication of a new electroal roll, this will have to be done by some residents within the brief window of just 24 hours.

And in a further twist, Balcombe Parish Council (BPC) has also issued a statement saying it has not and will not attempt to influence how anyone responds to the ballot after fliers from the different, diametrically opposed campaign groups were distributed to households.

Certain ones of the fliers led to concern that some could be mistakenly attributed to the parish council itself.

But BPC statement says: “The Parish Council would like to make it clear that it has not sent out any printed matter, or made any statement in any media, that attempts to influence public opinion relating to the Consultative Ballot.

“We are aware that interested groups in the village are making representations and canvassing but none of this emanates from Balcombe Parish Council.

“Balcombe Parish Council has not and will not attempt to influence how anybody responds.”

The latest poll asks people if they support energy exploration in the light of its latest planning application to West Sussex County Council, and if they support it or not using the fracking technique.

BPC has now accommodated people just added to the electoral roll after validation of Cuadrilla’s planning application was delayed.

The latest Consultative Ballot is intended to include everybody on the Balcombe Electoral Roll. However, BPC was informed originally that the new planning application would be validated by West Sussex County Council by the end of last September.

On this basis the ballot was set up to take place closing on November 7, using the September 2013 Electoral Roll.

But on its website today, the parish council says: “For reasons unknown to BPC then followed nearly four months of delay during which BPC was informed regularly that validation of the application was imminent. The ballot, for which the forms had already been printed, had to be postponed until this was done.

“The application was finally validated and entered the public domain on 22nd January 2014. The ballot forms were reprinted and despatched with a new closing date of 20th February.”

The council says it then became apparent that there were a significant number of current residents of Balcombe whose names do not appear on the September 2013 Electoral Roll.

Initially it appeared that, as the next version of the Electoral Roll would not be published until February 17, there was nothing that could be done to enable the later entries to participate in the ballot.

However, BPC persuaded Mid Sussex District Council to provide lists of the names and addresses of people who will be added to the February 2014 Electoral Roll, and those who will be removed.

The parish council’s website, which was updated yesterday (Thursday) continues: “With the cooperation of Electoral Reform Services, ballot forms will today be sent by first class post to everybody whose name is to be added to the February 2014 Electoral Roll.

“Unfortunately the time available for these people to respond will be short but provided they return the ballot forms within 24 hours of receiving them they should reach ERS by the deadline of 20th February.”

The ballot forms are numbered to enable the Electoral Roll Services to reject any forms received from people whose names are to be removed in the February 2014 Electoral Roll. Their views will not be included in the numbers reported to BPC.