Sussex countryside campaigners’ ‘horror’ at fracking U-turn

Sussex MPs are being urged to challenge a Government U-turn on fracking that campaigners say could put the county’s beauty spots at risk

JPCT 210214 The South Downs near Storrington. Photo by Derek Martin PPP-140221-142329003
JPCT 210214 The South Downs near Storrington. Photo by Derek Martin PPP-140221-142329003

Earlier this year ministers promised to ban hydraulic fracturing in areas such as national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

But draft legislation was later amended to allow deep drilling under areas like the South Downs National Park (SDNP) and AONBs and could withdraw protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

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The changes have been meet with ‘horror’ by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Sussex branch who have now written to all Sussex MPs and secretary of state for energy and climate change Amber Rudd urging them to rethink the legislation.

Celebrations as Celtique Energie's application to drill for oil and gas at Fernhurst is rejected in the South Downs National Park last year SUS-141109-124813001

The letter says: “Our concern arises from the fact that the draft regulations would only ban fracking within national parks and AONBs at depths of less than 1,200m, and would not apply to SSSIs outside those areas at all.”

It continues: “Given that the SDNP and AONBs were designated by statute for their landscape and scenic beauty, we fail to follow the logic that would deem all the surface infrastructure, additional traffic, noise and other disturbance and pipeline damage to these specially designated environments to be unjustifiable at one depth because of the harm they would inevitably cause, but deem that same harm to be perfectly justifiable at another depth.”

The area has been a particular focus for people campaigning against hydraulic fracturing in the UK.

Protests at Cuadrilla’s drilling site near Balcombe in Mid Sussex garnered national media attention in the summer of 2013, while applications for exploratory drilling near Wisborough Green and Fernhurst were both refused last year, with campaigners fearing that exploratory drilling could eventually lead to fracking in their areas.

The controversial process involves pumping water and chemicals underground at high pressure to split apart porous shale rock to release trapped oil or gas.

Exploratory drilling licences have already been granted for most of the Weald Basin, which stretches across a large part of both West and East Sussex.

A number of recent studies have pointed towards sizeable shale deposits in Sussex.

Last month the Government announced plans to fast-track shale gas applications through a dedicated planning process.

Under the new measures the Govermnent’s communities secretary will actively consider ‘calling-in’ applications on a case-by-case basis, while authorities that repeatedly fail to consider proposals oil and gas exploration within the statutory 16-week period could be stripped of their ability to determine applications.

At the time Mrs Rudd said: “As a one nation Government, we are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs giving hardworking people and their families more financial security, good for our energy security and part of our plan to decarbonise the economy. We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that.”

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