Cheers as South Downs National Park refuses drilling bid

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The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has refused permission for Celtique Energie to drill for shale oil and gas at Fernhurst.

The planning committee met last Thursday (September 11) in the SDNPA’s Midhurst headquarters.

The audience cheered and applauded as the committee unanimously agreed to refuse Celtique permission for an exploratory well at Nine Acre Copse in Vann Road, Fernhurst.

The controversial plan attracted more than 5,500 objections.

The committee heeded the advice of SDNPA officers that the proposals did not demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’, nor were they ‘in the public interest’.

Celtique CEO Geoff Davies said he was ‘disappointed’ but ‘not surprised’ with the decision, and says Celtique is now considering further options.

He said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision by the SDNPA. However, we are not surprised, given the SDNPA’s public stance regarding oil and gas exploration in National Parks, both in Sussex and elsewhere.

“National planning guidance clearly state that planning for the supply of minerals has a number of special characteristics that are not present in other developments. We believe SDNPA officers appear to have made their recommendation and the committee appears to have made its decision based on a subjective and unjustified interpretation of planning guidance. The decision fails to take into consideration the importance of this project to the nation and the comprehensive steps Celtique would be taking to ensure that all exploration work would be done sensitively during the very temporary period we would be working in the national park.

“Government, including the Prime Minister and several energy ministers, has repeatedly stated that ‘we are all in this together’ when it comes to oil and gas exploration in the UK. However, given today’s decision and the recent planning refusal by West Sussex County Council at Wisborough Green, we appear to be arriving at a scenario whereby, in the face of Government policy, operators are being deliberately prevented from exploring in the south-east of England.

“Our application was totally compliant, comprehensive and of high-quality. We believe it has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds. We believe this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal. We are considering our further options and will make a decision in due course.”