New court date set in battle over oil drilling on Leith Hill

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 The Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) will present its case at a public inquiry scheduled for the end of April against energy company Europa Oil and Gas and its wish to drill on the green belt site near Coldharbour.

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An initial public inquiry held in 2012 found in favour of Surrey County Council’s decision to refuse the application to drill on the site three years earlier.

However, the Planning Inspectorate’s decision was overturned on appeal last year, a decision which was upheld in June, meaning the fight will again be played out at a second public inquiry.

LHAG chairman Patrick Nolan told the Advertiser: “The decision to appeal was really only based on a tiny technicality in the inspector’s reasoning, which was seized upon by Europa’s lawyers.

“The rationale was not quite right in law but it was still made clear that the application was causing great harm to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

Mr Nolan said the proceedings could be complicated by the need for Europa to apply for a separate licence to drill across, a precedent set following last winter’s fracking demonstrations in Balcombe.

Europa’s current application would only permit drilling downwards on the current exploration site in Bury Hill Wood, a mile away from the prospect located under Coldharbour village.

LHAG is currently putting its case together, but Mr Nolan said the group has yet to receive Europa’s revised “environmental statement”, despite it being due in September.

Group members believe there would be several environmental ramifications to drilling, including air-quality deterioration, light pollution and land contamination. They also have concerns over the estimated 1,000-plus truck movements that would be required to complete the development, and harm to numerous rare wildlife species in the area.

Mr Nolan added: “We are not against drilling in principal but they have chosen the most inappropriate of sites.

“There’s only a one in three chance they will find anything, by Europa’s own estimates, and even if they do the most they will recover is 0.01 per cent of the UK’s oil needs. This is all about precedent and not about just one site. It’s about what can and cannot be done on the most protected kind of land in the country for the sake of 0.01 per cent.”

For more about LHAG, visit www.surreycommunity.info/lhag