Oil and gas drilling site in AONB refused against officers' advice

Plans for oil and gas drilling in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) have been refused by a county council's planning committee due to concerns about the potential impact on the protected land, despite officers recommending approval of the scheme to meet a “national need”.

Oil and gas exploration firm Egdon Resources’ submitted oil drilling plans to Lincolnshire County Council for a 2.4-hectare site in the village of Biscathorpe in the Lincolnshire Wolds. 

According to the planning officers' report to the planning committee, which decided on the application on Monday 1 November, the applicant proposed developing the site - which has been subject to exploratory drilling - to produce oil and gas for 15 years.

The site, a former quarry that "has been restored to agricultural", would be “restored back to agricultural use with off‐site planting being retained on cessation of oil production”, the report added. 

The developer said the scheme would have created up to 36 full-time jobs during the first phase, of which 11 would have been based in the county. 

Concerns were raised by Natural England, CPRE, Donington on Bain Parish Council, Hemingby Parish Council, Welton le Wold Parish Council and Lincolnshire Wolds Countryside Service, regarding the site’s location in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The groups feared that the development would result in “the presence of structures alien within this protected landscape”, the committee’s report stated. 

The report added that “the drilling rig would have a moderate adverse impact (which would be significant) on local landscape character and the visual amenities in the local area”. 

Major development is only allowed within an AONB where it can be demonstrated to be in the public interest, according to the Lincolnshire Wolds Outstanding Natural Beauty Plan.

However, officers stated that some existing woodland "provides screening of the site from public vantage points so it is not obvious or intrusive in the landscape". While the scheme would "have some impact on this designated landscape, the landscape character and visual impact", it "needs to be recognised that the rig would be only on-site for a modest period of time".

Other concerns raised in the officers' report included traffic congestion, local air and water pollution, and the impact on local tourism.

According to the report, East Lindsey District Council also raised concerns that the proposed development “would only make a minimal contribution towards the local economy”.

Officers said the government’s energy policy “makes it clear that energy supplies should come from a variety of sources including oil and gas”. 

While the UK is seeking to “reduce reliance on hydrocarbons as a fuel source… it is recognised that the continued use of this resource will remain necessary to supply energy users and industry for some time to come” the report said.

The report also acknowledged that as the site would be “restored back to agricultural use” in 2036, this would still be “a number of years from the government's ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050”. 

“Based on the need to maintain indigenous supplies of oil it is concluded that government policy and guidance confirms there is a national need for the production of oil from this site,” the report said. 

Officers found the scheme to be “consistent with the aims and objectives of the NPPF” that seek the sustainable production of hydrocarbons, and “supports growth and diversification of the local economy through inland employment”.

They also recommended approval for the scheme on the basis that the production of oil and gas within the AONB is “considered in the public interest, contributes to energy security, and would meet the aims and objectives of the transition to a Zero Carbon Future insofar as the source of the energy mineral lies within the UK and reduces reliance on international sources”.

Despite the recommendation, Lincolnshire County Council planning committee members refused the plans.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The committee felt the benefits of the scheme for the area didn’t outweigh the potential detrimental impact on the AONB of the Lincolnshire Wolds." 

Egdon Resources said: “We will await the formal decision notice before taking advice and considering our options including an appeal.”

This article originally appeared on ENDS Report's sister site Planning Magazine