A fracking firm’s plans to explore for shale oil in West Sussex have been unanimously rejected by the council, in a blow to government hopes of a UK shale boom.
Celtique Energie had been seeking permission to drill through shale rocks near the village of Wisborough Green. If it found oil, it would have then sought permission to frack at the site to extract it.
But West Sussex council threw out the drilling application on Tuesday, amid fierce local opposition to the prospect of lorries passing through the tranquil village 24 times a day.
Campaigners said the rejection was a landmark first in the UK’s embryonic drive for shale oil and gas exploration.
It comes a setback for the government’s attempts to encourage fracking across the country, which ministers hope could spark a shale energy boom.
Ministers have said that fracking should take place in the South “in the national interest” but companies attempting to explore there have so far faced strong resistance from local communities.
In Celtique’s case, planning officials had recommended the application be rejected, accusing the company of making an “unrealistic and inaccurate” assessment of the traffic impact of its plans.
Nick Herbert, the local MP and former Tory minister, had also urged councillors to reject the plans, telling the Telegraph that “rural West Sussex cannot become a carelessly industrialised landscape”.
West Sussex council said that councillors had rejected the plans “on the grounds that the applicant had not demonstrated the site represented the best option compared to other sites, has unsafe highways access and would have an adverse impact on Wisborough Green as a conservation area”.
Councillor Heidi Brunsdon, chairman of West Sussex county council’s planning committee, said: “There were simply too many highways issues and other issues of concern for any decision other than refusal in this instance.
“We have noted the objections of the local community and I felt that the debate today was a full and robust one.”
Celtique Energie had sought to defer a decision on the application after submitting further information related to the traffic impact, but the council refused to delay the hearing.
Celtique reacted with anger to the decision, accusing the councillors of being “politically motivated”.
Geoff Davies, chief executive, said: “We are clearly very disappointed with today’s decision
“WSCC members have not followed the spirit or the letter of Government policy or good practice in dealing with this planning application. We believe this application was totally compliant, comprehensive and of high quality and would stand up to further scrutiny by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal.
“This appears to us to be a politically motivated decision driven by elected members. We believe WSCC members may prefer the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State to decide, on appeal, an application which is, for WSCC members, politically contentious. But this is no way for the planning system to operate. We suggest that WSCC members appear to have ignored Government advice in relation to minerals planning and indeed as to the proper and efficient operation of the planning system.”
Originally posted on the Telegraph website