An application to test an oil well in Sussex has been approved, despite thousands of objections.
West Sussex county councillors came to a decision at a planning committee meeting in Chichester today (January 9).
Oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla has been given two years’ permission to flow test and monitor the exploration well at the Lower Stumble site in Balcombe.
Residents and supporters protested against the application outside County Hall ahead of the meeting.
The application followed planning permission for the site in May 2014 to flow test and monitor the exploration well, which was drilled in the summer of 2013, but this permission expired.
The site has been the target of a vociferous campaign by groups opposed to the use of the technique known as fracking.
At the time Cuadrilla gave an ‘unequivocal assurance’ to Balcombe Parish Council and said it would not be using fracking.
However, thousands of people marched in protest on the site in 2013, when the oil and gas exploration company came in to drill the exploratory well.
West Sussex County Council received more than 2,700 objections to the new application, with only 11 in favour.
Speaking against the application in the meeting, Balcombe parish councillor Sue Taylor said: “This site is close to our village. The nearest house, Kemps Farm, is only 350 metres away, and the rest of the village a mere 800 metres.
“The south-westerly prevailing winds bring any noise and pollution directly onto our village. We oppose this development.
“We have many concerns, including water safety, air pollution, damage to the environment and the health of our residents.
“But in the time allowed I would like to focus on just five areas: residents’ opposition to exploration of this type; the impact of the flare, especially when local topography and wind are considered; HGV traffic routed through the village and past our school.
“And if this application is accepted, contrary to people’s wishes, we need a robust Noise Management Plan, particularly as in 2013 noise regularly exceeded permitted limits. insurance or a bond to mitigate any liabilities.
“In summary, Balcombe Parish Council opposes this application, as do the majority of Balcombe residents.
“We urge you to consider the impact of your decision on Balcombe, and on the well-being of Balcombe residents.”
John Scates spoke against the application on behalf of Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA). He said: “I’m sorry that our councillor Bill Acraman can’t be here, but he has emailed a number of Balcombe residents with some very good points.
“He is concerned about the closeness of the site to the village, in particular the proposed flare. He is not satisfied that the noxious fumes will be minimal – nor even that the flare should be in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at all. We agree.
“He underlines the ‘unproven assertions’ we are asked to rely on regarding groundwater pollution. We agree.
“Ardingly reservoir is close to the site and two streams – very close indeed – run into the Ouse which is the source of our drinking water.
“Councillor Acraman also notes that many of the objections quite rightly draw attention to the disturbing potential health hazards about which the applicant’s words leave much to be desired. We agree. My neighbours with children are extremely worried.
“So many details of this application are imprecise, from the unclear design and size of the proposed new flare to the fact that the Environment Agency has not considered several of the most toxic gases produced.
“Your responsibility is a weighty one. The people of Balcombe and West Sussex will hold you responsible, as elected defenders of our health and beautiful countryside.”
Parent and teacher Helen Savage also spoke on behalf of FFBRA. She said: “I speak on behaIf of FFBRA, but also from the perspective of a parent and a teacher at the school, who has lived in Balcombe for over a decade.
“We are very concerned about the increase in number of HGVs that will pass our school if this application is permitted.
“The fence separating the school from the B2036 is immediately above an area used as an open classroom, in front of the main school building.
“So the road down which HGVs pass is 2.1 metres from this outdoor classroom area which is in daily use. The emissions from HGVs are various, and none of them good for health.
“The children are the next generation of Balcombe, and as a parent and as a teacher, it is my duty to protect their health and wellbeing.
“As a voter, I rely on you to keep your part of the bargain you made with voters, to safeguard our health and our safety, and to protect us from the harmful aspects of life over which we have no control.
“I ask you to think hard about this as you decide whether to grant permission to this application or not.
“And for the sake of my children, of all the children at the Balcombe School and Buttercup Barn nursery, and of the residents old and young of our lovely village, I ask you to reject the application.”
Balcome resident Rodney Jago urged the planning committee to approve the application. “There was no damage to the village before and if it wasn’t for the protesters no one would have noticed,” he said.
“There was not one disturbance. We will require some oil and gas for many years to come. A poll found 546 voters in the village opposed this but 309 supported it. So I urge you to approve this application.”
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