More than seven years of controversial oil exploration in the West Sussex village of Balcombe could be at an end after councillors blocked plans for a well test.


The county council’s planning committee today unanimously refused proposals for the site which saw mass daily protests and arrests during drilling in the summer of 2013. The vote, against the advice of planning officers, decided the application for a one-year well test was not in the public interest and would have minimal benefit to the local economy. More than 800 people had objected to the proposal by the site operator, Angus Energy.

In a statement, Angus Energy said it was disappointed with the decision. “The company is presently evaluating all the options available with its partners”.

At 2.15pm, the share price was down 8% at 0.825p.

Today’s decision is the latest chapter in the saga of oil development in the village. The 2013 protests increased awareness of fracking in the UK and helped to launch a nationwide campaign against the process. This is the sixth time in just over 10 years that oil companies have sought permission to test the viability of oil production at Balcombe. So far, only a short test has been carried out, in 2018, when unexpected water was found in the well.

Last year, Angus withdrew an application for a three-year test after council planners recommended refusal. Then officials said the proposal would compromise the protected landscape of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There were no exceptional circumstances that would be needed in planning law to justify consent, they said.

The application decided today shortened the duration of the test to one year and Angus Energy proposed to install a new membrane on the well pad. But councillors said nothing had changed since last year and there were still no exceptional circumstances to approve the plans. Unless Angus Energy appeals against the decision, the Balcombe site should now be restored to its previous forestry use.