National Park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has thrown its weight behind objections to a proposal for an exploratory drill for shale gas near Fernhurst, West Sussex.
“The current planning application may only be for exploration,” says Society chairman Robert Cheesman, but “we can have a good idea about what might happen next. This Society supports renewable energy – at the right scale and in the right place – over the extraction and burning of more fossil fuels. And running a major gas extraction operation within the national park can’t be right. It runs counter to government planning policy.”
A range of environmental organisations, as well as local residents, are campaigning against the proposals from Celtique Energie and are pressing for them to be rejected by the South Downs National Park Planning Committee when it considers the application. If gas is found in sufficient quantities, the controversial fracking technique may be used to extract it – and, as well as the likely setback to meeting the country’s climate change targets, there are major concerns about the risks, experienced elsewhere, of seismic activity and the pollution of underground water sources.
Says Robert Cheesman, “Government is telling local planning authorities not to worry about these uncertainties but as a Society – with both a large and a small “s” – we are entitled to reassurance.”
The South Downs Society has today submitted its response to the planning application, pointing out that the choice of a location within the national park has not been justified. The Society’s comments have also included its strong concerns over landscape damage, unacceptable levels of lorry traffic, noise and light pollution, loss of tranquillity, threat to local archaeological heritage and impact on enjoyment of the national park and its network of rights of way.
On Wednesday evening 20th November President of the South Downs Society, Baroness Whitaker, hosted a reception at the House of Lords celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the South Downs Society.
The Lord Speaker, Baroness d’Souza, spoke about the importance of the role of civic society in protecting the countryside and welcomed some 80 guests, most of whom were members of the Society. In addition to celebrating the 90 years since the Society was formed, Baroness Whitaker and Society Trustees, Rob Jackson and Robert Cheesman outlined exciting plans to attract more families to join the Society. In 2014 a series of family-friendly events and walks will be introduced to the programme of activities along with a package of member benefits designed to appeal to families.
“Friends of the National Park”, the South Downs Society, today (25 March) poured lukewarm water over government’s latest plans to protect maritime wildlife.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been consulting on proposals to create a number of special Marine Conservation Zones round the coast to protect key habitats and species including fish, but environmental organisations have deemed the plans insufficient.
Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We’ve been waiting for these proposals to emerge for a long time. There have been endless studies and meetings of interested parties. The urgent need for increased protection has surely been made and I have to say we’re disappointed with what the government’s come up with.”
The Society regards the English Channel close to the Sussex coast as the backdrop to the South Downs National Park and its health and wildlife diversity as fundamental to the public’s enjoyment of this special landscape. Although agreeing that the creation of special zones is a positive move, the Society believes “geographically limited and partially protected sites” will not be enough by themselves.
“We’re pleased that there’s to be a protected area just west of Beachy Head,” says Steve Ankers, “but it’s going to be much narrower in extent than the voluntary conservation area we’ve had in place there for a long time and it doesn’t even take in the tidal estuaries of the Ouse and the Cuckmere. And they say they’re not at this stage taking forward proposals for another zone just east of Beachy Head, which is a major setback.”
The South Downs Society is particularly unhappy that early ideas for setting up some “Reference Areas” amongst the conservation zones with an even higher level of wildlife protection have been dropped to satisfy commercial interests.
“These proposals are a start,” says Steve Ankers, “but we were expecting much more. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning and the network of Marine Conservation Zones will rapidly grow in area and species coverage and do the job that needs doing. And let’s hope it’s properly funded and not just paying lip service.”