UPDATE: Campaigners celebrate as Celtique Energie drops drilling bids at Fernhurst and Wisborough Green

Members of the Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green group
Members of the Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green group
  • Celtique Energie will not appeal against drilling refusal at Fernhurst in the South Downs National Park
  • The company has also announced it is withdrawing its appeal at Kirdford and Wisborough Green
  • Friends of the Earth say it is a ‘tremendous victory for common sense’
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CAMPAIGNERS are today celebrating after Celtique Energie has announced it will not appeal after it was refused permission to drill for oil and gas near Kirdford and Wisborough Green, and Fernhurst.

Celtique submitted a planning application to drill for oil and gas on land at Nine Acre Copse in Vann Road, Fernhurst.

The South Downs National Park Authority threw out the application in September 2014. The deadline to lodge an appeal was next week, March 16.

The company also applied to drill on land south of Boxal Bridge in Northup Field between Kirdford and Wisborough Green. West Sussex County Council refused permission for this site in July 2014. Celtique lodged an appeal against the decision on October 15 last year and the public inquiry was due to start in September 2015.

This comes as a shot in the arm to campaigners who spent months fighting the applications - fearing the drilling would ultimately lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Brenda Pollack said: “I am absolutely delighted. This is a tremendous victory for common sense, and yet another blow to the coalition’s short-sighted fracking plans. The withdrawal of their appeal at Wisborough Green was completely unexpected.

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

“It is wonderful news for local people in those villages and beyond who do not want dirty drilling affecting their communities.

“The South Downs National Park Authority and West Sussex Council were right to reject these schemes and we hope that other companies take note.

“Celtique Energie have permission to drill at a site near Billingshurst and work has already started there with drilling expected any week.”

Villagers from Kirdford and Wisborough Green launched their own campaign group in a bid to fight Celtique, raising thousands of pounds to pay for legal representation at a public inquiry.

This is a tremendous victory for common sense, and yet another blow to the coalition’s short-sighted fracking plans|We had to pinch ourselves a few times to make sure this announcement wasn’t a figment of our imagination

Campaigners said they ‘had to pinch themselves’ following Celtique’s announcement.

A spokesman for the Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green (KKWG) group said: “We had to pinch ourselves a few times to make sure this announcement wasn’t a figment of our imagination.

“Whether the reason given is PR spin to save face or they finally realised that their arguments didn’t stack up, we don’t know.

“One things for sure, there are a lot of happy people in Kirdford and Wisborough Green many of whom are nursing a large hangover this morning.”

Fernhurst campaigners are ‘over the moon’

Petworth MP Nick Herbert welcomes the announcement

In a statement issued last night (March 11), the energy company said: “Recent changes in the Infrastructure Act 2015 restricting unconventional oil and gas development in National Parks mean one of the exploration aims, namely the evaluation of the shale properties, is no longer feasible.

“This is in conjunction with Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reinforcing new planning guidance regarding oil and gas developments in National Parks in England, stipulating that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances and where it is in the public interest.

“At present there is too much uncertainty over how this test will be applied in practice to justify investment in National Parks.”

“The reasons for withdrawing the appeal at Boxal Bridge are primarily due to the impact of the inquiry delay has on future exploration and potential appraisal operations that need to be completed in order to deliver a development application within the licence time period.

“By the time the inspector’s decision is received and the period for any third party legal challenge to that decision has expired, there will be insufficient time to drill a well at this location prior to the end of the licence term in June 2016.”