BREAKING NEWS: South Downs National Park refuse Celtique’s Fernhurst drilling bid

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THE South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has today refused permission for Celtique Energie to drill for shale oil and gas at Fernhurst.

The planning committee met today (September 11) in the SDNPA’s Midhurst headquarters.

The South Downs National Park planning committee meet to discuss Celtique Energie's Fernhurst application SUS-141109-124802001

The South Downs National Park planning committee meet to discuss Celtique Energie's Fernhurst application SUS-141109-124802001

The audience cheered and applauded as the committee unanimously agreed to refuse Celtique permission for an exploratory well at Nine Acre Copse in Vann Road, Fernhurst.

The controversial plan attracted more than 5,500 objections.

The committee heeded the advice of SDNPA officers that the proposals did not demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’, nor were they ‘in the public interest’.

Celtique CEO Geoff Davies said he was ‘disappointed’ but ‘not surprised’ with the decision, and says Celtique is now considering further options.

He said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). However, we are not surprised, given the SDNPA’s public stance regarding oil and gas exploration in National Parks, both in Sussex and elsewhere.

“National planning guidance clearly state that planning for the supply of minerals has a number of special characteristics that are not present in other developments. We believe SDNPA officers appear to have made their recommendation and the committee appears to have made its decision based on a subjective and unjustified interpretation of planning guidance. The decision fails to take into consideration the importance of this project to the nation and the comprehensive steps Celtique would be taking to ensure that all exploration work would be done sensitively during the very temporary period we would be working in the National Park.

“From our detailed studies we believe that this is the best available location to undertake exploratory drilling to quantify the amount of untapped oil or gas resources present in this part of the Weald Basin, which we think has the potential to be nationally significant. It seems wrong in these highly uncertain geopolitical times that the national and public interest can be given such low priority. If we are not even allowed to explore it will not be possible to prove how significant this resource could be for the country.

“Government, including the Prime Minister and several energy ministers, has repeatedly stated that ‘we are all in this together’ when it comes to oil and gas exploration in the UK. However, given today’s decision and the recent planning refusal by West Sussex County Council at Wisborough Green, we appear to be arriving at a scenario whereby, in the face of Government policy, operators are being deliberately prevented from exploring in the south-east of England.

“Our application was totally compliant, comprehensive and of high-quality. We believe it has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds. We believe this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal. We are considering our further options and will make a decision in due course.”

See next week’s Observer (September 18) for a full report of the meeting.