Council rejects drilling application in Tory heartlands - wow!

Brenda Pollack

23 July 2014

I am feeling comfortably numb. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet even though it happened yesterday.  A key milestone in the campaign against fracking has happened. Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council was the first council in England to turn down an application for exploratory shale oil drilling. Wow! And wow again!

With a government that insists on going "all out for shale" – offering tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, sweeteners to local communities and even considering changing the law against trespass to make it easier for the frackers, we have a huge fight on our hands.

Yet the residents of the quintessentially English villages of Wisborough Green and Kirdford stood up and fought. They leafleted, talked, held meetings, drank tea, and lobbied furiously – but calmly. They made their case against this scheme using a range of methods including a good website, a great banner, and this video showing how unsuitable their quiet rural roads are for large lorries (you might recognise the narrator).

Lorry route trial to proposed West Sussex Fracking Site 2014, by Martin J Franks

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting, there was much drama on Monday when the council announced it was going to pull the item from the agenda, and then an hour later said it was back on again! This came after the company, Celtique Energie, submitted a new report last Friday and wanted the council to have time to consider the information they had supplied. This stemmed from the Planning Officer recommending that the council refuse the project on the basis of traffic impacts and harm to the character of Wisborough Green from the extra lorries going through.

I must admit that when I left my house yesterday morning I was steeling myself for the committee to defer their decision so as to be seen to follow due process. But amazingly as the meeting progressed it became clear that all the councillors not only wanted to make a decision, most, if not all, wanted to vote against the scheme! In fact they even decided to add another reason to turn it down – on the basis of inadequate assessment of alternative sites. 

The local residents’ group, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green (KKWG) gave two excellent speeches during the meeting. And Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, David Smythe, told the committee that the application was “incomplete, incompetent and disingenuous”. He argued that geological faulting in the Weald Basin risked contamination of groundwater by methane and drilling chemicals and that the area has 400 times as many faults as in the US shale basins. Here's his powerpoint presentation. A killer moment came when he pointed out that some of the errors in the company’s technical report were basic things that not even first year geology students should get wrong.

When the vote was taken, it was a unanimous rejection of the application.

Well done to the councillors who voted against this damaging proposal. It was absolutely the right decision. Nobody wants to see Sussex ruined by industrial drilling for dirty fossil fuels. If Celtique had been allowed to test for oil or gas, then there’s every chance that fracking would have followed. It’s important to note that this has happened in the heartlands of the Conservative party where the council and every MP is true blue.

Tears, jubilation and shock came after the vote. Massive congratulations to KKWG and all who took part in this campaign. Whilst Celtique Energie may appeal the decision and the battle isn’t over yet, we can rightly be very pleased with this result.

Every action helps. Please continue to support our campaign by telling David Cameron you don’t want him to change the Trespass laws to allow drilling under your home without your knowledge.

Say no to trespass law changes


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