South Downs National Park calls for tighter ‘fracking’ controls

Celebrations as Celtique Energie's application to drill for oil and gas at Fernhurst was rejected by the SDNPA in 2014

Celebrations as Celtique Energie's application to drill for oil and gas at Fernhurst was rejected by the SDNPA in 2014

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TIGHTER policies on ‘fracking’ have been called for by members of the South Downs National Park (SDNPA) as they shape their joint minerals local plan to cover the next 25 years.

Members said they were concerned the government had not yet set in stone its commitments to safeguard protected areas and the SDNPA needed to spell its policies out clearly.

Chairman of the SDNPA Margaret Paren told the planning committee today (Thursday, March 10): “This is such a crucial policy and so important to the general public and to ourselves engaged in policy making.

“Given the government’s position is anything but clear it makes sense at this stage to have two policies splitting them into conventional and non-conventional drilling so there is greater clarity.”

The oil and gas policy before the committee laid out that proposals including extensions to existing sites would be permitted provided that where they involved fracking, surface development was outside the national park, Chichester Harbour and High Weald AONB and other protected sites

Looking at the draft plan being jointly prepared by national park and West Sussex County Council officers, planning committee members said they had concerns the emerging policies governing hydraulic fracturing did not nail fracking companies down clearly enough.

They asked officers to go back to the drawing board and come up new policies which separated the park’s stance on conventional oil and gas drilling and the controversial process of fracking.

The government has made a commitment to ensure fracking cannot take place from wells drilled at the surface of national parks, but there is no current legislation.

But planning member Ian Phillips told fellow members fracking involved drilling horizontally from a central point with a series of radial holes, which could extend into the national park

“These radial extensions have monitoring stations above ground so although there is very deep drilling below the surface of the national park, there would also be surface installations.

“This is an associated from of fracking development which could have a significant impact on the landscape of the national park.

He said the minerals policy should be tweaked to cover all the eventualities of the ‘associated paraphernalia’ of fracking.

The draft minerals plan looks set to ditch 25 of the 27 sand and gravel quarries listed for possible excavation in the 2014 mineral sites study plan.

The only proposed sites in draft plan are Ham Farm at Steyning for sand and an extension at West Hoathly brickworks for clay.

The fracking policy will now be amended before the plan goes to the full national park authority for approval to go out to public consultation.

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