Retention and extension with upgrading of two appraisal wellsites (Bletchingley Central and Bletchingley 2) and access track for the production of conventional hydrocarbons, including associated infrastructure, all on some 1.78 hectares for a temporary period of 15 years with restoration to agriculture without compliance with Condition 10 (plans and drawings) of planning permission ref: TA/2015/1572 dated 24 March 2016 to remove gas to grid processing, to allow a change and increase of gas to wire processing from 1MW to 6MW; and the reconfiguration of internal layout of both wellsites (a section 73 application).
Samantha Murphy, Deputy Planning Development Manager
Caroline Smith, Interim Planning Group Manager
Stephen Jenkins, Interim Planning Development Manager
Nancy El-Shatoury, Principal Lawyer
There were no registered speakers.
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. Officers introduced the report and provided a brief summary. An update sheet was tabled at the meeting and is attached to these minutes as Appendix 1. Members noted that the proposal was for the retention and extension with upgrading of two appraisal wellsites and access track for the production of conventional hydrocarbons, including associated infrastructure, all on some 1.78 hectares for a temporary period of 15 years with restoration to agriculture without compliance with Condition 10 of planning permission ref: TA/2015/1572 dated 24 March 2016. The applicant also sought to change the method that gas is transported from the sit which was covered within paragraphs 14 – 18 of the report. Members further noted that the application was supported by both noise and air quality assessments. Officers highlighted that no significant impacts had been identified.
2. Members of the Committee raised concerns related to the contamination membrane noted within paragraphs 153 – 163 of the report. In response to concerns, officers highlighted conditions outlined in the report which stated that, before the installation of the area of extended containment membrane, details shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the County Planning Authority of the type of existing membrane at Bletchingley Central, the type of membrane to be used for the extension, the dimensions of the overlap area, the method of cleaning the overlap area prior to joining, the method of joining the existing and extended areas of membrane, a Construction Quality Assurance (CQA) Plan, and containment system edge details demonstrating how the system will provide appropriate containment. This shall include details of the existing cellar and surrounding concrete apron and how the existing membrane interacts and seals against them. This shall also include details of the measures to be provided at the vehicle access point to the impermeable area, and how the containment is completed in this area.
3. Members of the Committee highlighted comments related to drainage outlined in the report. Officers explained that there was a lack in information and clarity on the drainage system at the sites which was later resolved following a flood risk assessment. A condition was also included in the report which stated that specific details of the drainage systems would be presented to the Local Flooding Authority and the Geological Consultant.
4. The Committee raised concerns about whether there would be a significant moderate impact on the openness of the Green Belt. Officers explained that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was clear that mineral extraction need not be inappropriate development in the Green Belt provided it preserves the openness. Officers made a judgement that the harm to openness was a short term harm and that this was overridden by the short term nature of the proposal and that the site would be restored.
5. Members noted that the Air Quality Consultant was satisfied that emissions from the site were not significant and were dispersing appropriately.
6. A Member of the Committee asked whether it would be appropriate to secure a bond from the operator for restoration of the site. Officers highlighted that this was not usual practice for the County Planning Authority to request and that it would only be required under very special circumstances. It was however highlighted that it was permit requirement of the Oil and Gas Authority to have a programme of work which included restoration.
7. A Member of the Committee stated that they found the very special circumstances to be compelling and felt there to be no reason why the application shouldn’t be approved.
8. A Member of the Committee supported the officer recommendation and highlighted that most residents within the local area where not aware of the site’s existence.
The Planning and Regulatory Committee agreed to PERMIT application TA2019/1608 subject to the conditions and informatives listed on pages 61-75 of the report and the update sheet tabled at the meeting and attached to these minutes.