Keith Taylor MEP voices opposition to Leith Hill traffic plans

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East and a vocal opponent of oil and gas drilling, has written to Surrey County Council to object to the Traffic Management Scheme proposed for the drill site operated by Europa at Leith Hill, Surrey.

The site is located in the middle of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and accessed by an ancient ‘sunken lane’. Mr Taylor has visited the site on a number of occasions to support the coalition of residents and campaigners who have been protesting against the drilling plans for the best part of seven years.

In a formal objection submitted to Surrey County Council, the senior Green Party politician and member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, said of the ‘inadequate’ plans to manage traffic flows to and from the site:

“Coldharbour Lane is a stretch of pre-Roman sunken lane with high tree-lined banks and a favourite route for cyclists currently signposted as unsuitable for HGVs. I do not believe that the proposed traffic management measures are in any way adequate to protect its unique character. Sunken lanes are an important historic, social and ecological feature of our landscape which simply must be protected.”

As part of his objection, Mr Taylor also included photographs taken by a local resident highlighting the damage done to the lane on the first day of last month’s eviction of the ‘protection camp’ that had been set up on site. He said:

“The photographic evidence and first-hand observations of residents clearly demonstrate the unacceptable risk of damage posed by lorries on this narrow lane.”

Objections raised by local residents have coalesced around the impact of the: increased scale and volume of traffic and associated noise and air pollution; safety risks to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders; impaired public access to Leith Hill, and Leith Hill Place, a National Trust property; fragile condition of the historic sunken lane and its iconic trees, and; risk of accidents and spills associated with the transportation of dangerous substances.

Vicki Elcoate, a local resident and member of the A Voice for Leith Hill group, said:

“It is unclear to me why the interests of an oil company take precedence over the interests of a National Trust property and the leisure of thousands of people visiting Leith Hill. Although the waste plan made it clear that radioactive waste would be brought out of the site, this is not mentioned in the traffic management plan. Local residents should be clearly informed of this possibility.” 

Patrick Nolan, a local resident and member of Leith Hill Action Group, said:

“I am extremely concerned about the increase in emergency vehicle response times that will be caused when Coldharbour Lane is closed or blocked by HGVs or slow moving HGVs. It is vital that all emergency vehicles are entirely unimpeded along the full length of Coldharbour Lane which is a mecca for cyclists every day of the week and the main access route to the Surrey Hills. Accidents are commonplace and emergency vehicles are deployed on a regular basis. Just last weekend a cyclist tragically lost their life here. I simply don’t understand why the risk of increased response times for emergency vehicles has been totally ignored by Europa.”

Leith Hill Action Group has also expressed outrage over the late addition of information to the application by the oil and gas firm, which they claim will now not subjected to appropriate public scrutiny.

The application is expected to go before Surrey County Council’s planning committee on 2 August with responses to the consultation being accepted until Monday, July 31.