Permission to extend drilling at Broadford Bridge agreed

Protesters outside the county council offices in Horsham
Protesters outside the county council offices in Horsham

Permission for activities to continue at an exploratory drilling site in Broadford Bridge has been agreed.

UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) started work at the site off Adversane Lane earlier this year, but the temporary permission, granted by West Sussex County Council in 2013, runs out on Friday (September 15).

The company’s application to extend its permission by 12 months to allow for flow testing and appraisal was approved by the county council’s Planning Committee unanimously today (Tuesday September 12).

Actor Sue Jameson, speaking for the Broadford Bridge Action Group, said their own authenticated traffic survey showed a 68 per cent rise in the number of heavy lorries using the road in a day within the last two years.

She claimed the applicant had been breaching the controls on working hours, and rather than drilling taking place over 28 days it had lasted 104 days.

She added: “We believe our lives and the environment will be impacted significantly and we have not got enough information.

“We request you refuse this lengthy extension. Please listen to our voices.”

Meanwhile Jim Kelsey, on behalf of Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, argued the proposals ‘increase risk to water quality and quantity’ as they believed the activities were experimental, and described them as a ‘fishing trip posing huge potential risks for us all’.

He added: “I do not want this for my beloved Weald and I’m sure you do not want it either.”

Matt Cartwright, chief operating officer at UKOG, explained that they had only taken over the site last year with only seven months of activity on site out of the original three year permission.

He said: “We are very open with what we are doing and are committed to developing the relationship with the local community both now and in the future.”

Stephen Sanderson, executive director of UKOG, described how ‘myths and scaremongering’ had been spread by a ‘small but vocal minority’, adding: “We strive to be good neighbours, we are open and transparent, and we are at the forefront of good environmental practice and safeguarding.”

Local member Pat Arculus (Con, Pulborough) suggested there were mixed views in the area, with some pointing out that drilling has already taken place and they would be in ‘no man’s land’ if they rejected the temporary extension.

She added: “I must admit I do feel as a resident that we have got to trust our regulators to do their job properly. If we do not, we have got a real concern about the way the country is run.”

Officers explained that any chemicals used would have to be signed off by the Environment Agency, while the Health and Safety Executive would be checking the borehole ‘so nothing can risk the water resources’.

Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North) said: “This is a continuation of an existing planning permission. Nothing seriously has changed in my view.

“Since then in fact the most visual impact has already disappeared with the removal of the rig.

“It’s a low level operation that will last a few months.”

Bill Acraman (Con, Worth Forest) echoed concerns about water supply, but after the officers’ answers conceded they had to trust other agencies’ ‘word for it’.

Meanwhile Liz Kitchen (Con, St Leonard’s Forest) asked why new speed limits had not been considered.

Officers said that the highways department had concluded that a new lower speed limit was not necessary to make the site acceptable for oil exploration.

Duncan Crow (Con, Tilgate and Furnace Green), chairman of the planning committee, said: “We recognise there’s a lot of strong opinions on both sides. The committee will be determining the application solely on planning grounds.”

The application was unanimously approved by the committee.

Afterwards a spokesman for Broadford Bridge Action Group said: “Despite UKOG chairman Stephen Sanderson accusing us of being a ‘scaremongering minority’, objectors to the extension far outnumbered the two supporters and four UKOG employees who left by the back door after the meeting.

“We were reasonable, rational and peaceful, and our concerns over water contamination and increased traffic on our roads need to be listened to not ignored.”

Brenda Pollack, South East campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “This is bad news for local people and bad news for our environment.

“Local residents have many concerns about the risks of these operations and have said loud and clear that they don’t want the oil industry on their doorstep.”