At a virtual meeting of Arreton Parish Council on Monday night, members decided after hearing passionate speeches from members of the public and having read the planning documents, the body would object to an application for the exploration of oil falls.
Submitted by UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), the application could see 2 exploratory boreholes dug in a field in Arreton, up the road from the New Barn Business Park on the A3056 and just off a public footpath to St George’s Down.
Councillors took the viewpoint there were too many potential unknowns with the outcome of the application to support.
Cllr Vivian Roberts said she couldn’t see anything in favour of the application and the UNESCO biosphere status the Island has been awarded should be maintained as it attracts tourists and anything that jeopardises that is risky.
The Island is 1 of only 7 places in the United Kingdom to be awarded with biosphere reserve status and councillors were concerned if drilling were to happen it could be taken away.
Cllr Martin Kimber, chair of the parish council, said if the consequence of the oil drilling would be too lose the status, it could be catastrophic.
Cllr Venetia Verey said she had so many points to object to the application, including biodiversity, visual impact and the effect on water, she did not know where to start, so looked at the chief executive of the Isle of Wight Council, John Metcalfe’s vision for the Island. She said:
“He said ‘we should preserve our environment, protect our community and provide sound financial management.’ The overarching regeneration strategy is called Inspiration Island and that is up to 2030.
“So, what is happening in 2030, we are trying to get to carbon zero and it would be a historic mistake to be starting to drill for hydrocarbons.
“They want to have eight anaerobic digesters on the Island produce our own electricity so to go back to taking hydrocarbons out of the earth is a catastrophic mistake. It is not moving forward.”
Cllr David Healy asked whether the economic benefits for the parish and the Island generally outweigh the potential damage to the Island and its people. He said:
“I don’t think they do. You could also argue if planning permission were refused, any oil should still be there if a cast-iron guaranteed method of drilling safely is proved to exist and the demand for fossil fuel is clearly evident but at present, I am against it.
“I also think it is worth pointing out, the vast majority of comments on the planning portal oppose it but some 30 comments support it. As far as I can see only one of those lives on the Island, the rest are from mainland UK so I’m not convinced of the proposals and of the safety issues.”
Cllr Heather Calloway objected to the application because of some of the risks that may be tied in with further applications for the site if UKOG were to find oil and want to start hydrocarbon production. She said:
“There are a lot of ‘unlikely’ and not very many specifics of what damage could happen.”
Councillors objected to issues with water, traffic and dangerous roads (as mentioned in the Island Roads report), and the fact the field falls in the ‘Mineral Safeguarding Area’.
The full Arreton Parish Council comment will be available to read on the Isle of Wight Council’s planning portal once it has been submitted.
They also found problems with some of the planning documents, which were either completed in 2018 and contained out of date information, or the ‘copy and paste’ nature of mitigation risks which says UKOG would use Network Rail.
Public comments on the application will be accepted until 24th July but councillors were ‘quite disappointed’ the application was still going ahead during the coronavirus pandemic as they felt a lot more people would be aware of the application had it been in pre-COVID circumstances.