‘Relief’ as further oil testing at Balcombe is refused

Fresh plans to test for oil at a site in Balcombe have unanimously refused by West Sussex County Council’s planning committee today (Tuesday March 2).

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 2:22 pm

Back in 2019 Angus Energy withdrew an application for flow testing at the Lower Stumble site as council planning officers were recommending refusal.

Officers said there were no exceptional circumstances to allow such major development in the High Weald AONB with minimal benefits to the local economy.

Angus submitted a fresh application reducing the time sought for the flow testing phase from three years to 12 months.

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This time council officers recommended approval, but objectors argued nothing else had materially changed between the two applications.

Councillors concurred and unanimously refused the application today.

George Lucan, chief executive at Angus Energy, had argued the ‘modest’ development would be ‘sensitive to its surroundings’, with the Balcombe site ‘representing the best environmental option from which the target reservoir can be accessed’.

This argument did not hold sway with objectors who raised the impact of activity at the site on the environment and highlighted huge concerns with large lorries rolling through the village.

Sue Taylor, from the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, described how the plans had caused a ‘great deal of stress to our village’ and felt there were no exceptional circumstances to allow this to go ahead.

Although there is a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence for this area, she said: “It does not give them the right to have an oil well. That is dependent on planning and environmental permission.”

Rachel Hall, a Balcombe resident, focused on the impact allowing the development would have on the nearby primary school which her son attends.

In particular they had concerns about the safety implications of large heavy vehicles driving to and from the site and increased air pollution this would cause.

Both Gary Marsh, the local Mid Sussex district councillor and the area’s county councillor Bill Acraman, spoke against the application.

Meanwhile planning committee members felt there were still no exceptional circumstances to allow the development in the AONB, with several pointing out the incompatibility of allowing the extraction of more hydrocarbons with tackling climate change.

Paul High, chairman of the planning committee, said: “In my opinion nothing has changed since the previous application.”

After the meeting, Sue Taylor said: “This verdict is such a relief. Thanks to all the hard work of so many people, the situation is looking positive for Balcombe.”

Jon Millbanks, chairman of Balcombe Parish Council, said he hoped this is the end of the story of oil exploration in Balcombe.

He explained: “We shall be heartily glad to see the back of oil companies in the village. They have blighted village life for ten years, and threatened us with increased HGV traffic, noise and fumes from drilling and flaring.

“Now the children at our excellent local primary school will not have to put up with idling HGVs spewing out noxious fumes, metres from their classrooms and playground, as they wait to go down to the well-site.”