Oil drilling strikes at the heart of our National Parks

  • Contributor information: CNP

Following recent news coverage highlighting the resumption of oil production in the South Downs National Park, Campaign for National Parks has written an open letter to Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove, calling out the decision of the planning inspectorate to override the local decision-making powers of the South Downs National Park Authority and calling for a moratorium on oil and gas extraction in National Parks. 

Read the full letter below: 

Dear Rt Hon Michael Gove MP,

We were dismayed to read the recent news from UK Oil & Gas that the Avington Joint Operating Committee have agreed to restart oil production at the Avington oil field in the heart of the South Downs National Park after they were supposed to restore the site in 2018 at the expiration of their license.

The decision to resume drilling for oil at this site until 2026 puts the National Park’s purposes in grave danger, dismissing local decision-making powers and failing to protect and enhance the National Park’s special characteristics.

There has been a very real lack of clarity provided on how national ambitions are being linked to local decision making and we believe that the UK Oil & Gas announcement has been enabled by this Government’s sharp turn away from commitments to reach net zero and the failure of your department’s planning inspectorate to take account of the global impact of continued fossil fuel extraction when awarding the license on appeal.

At the scale of production suggested by UK Oil & Gas – which has already extracted a large quantity from the site and expects there to be “significant recoverable oil resources” – we do not agree with the planning inspectorate that this proposal “constitutes exceptional circumstances for oil exploration development”. This is due to the lack of consideration of global climate impacts on wildlife and natural beauty of the Park. We disagree that there is an “acceptable environmental impact” (both locally and globally) and we are concerned by the precedent this now sets for other National Parks.

In the original planning decision, IGas (now Star Energy) were found to have failed to:

Adequately assessed the impact of the proposal on the environment, landscape and recreational opportunities.

Propose suitable mitigation measures to conserve and enhance the National Park.

Adequately assess the cost of, or scope of, oil extraction outside the National Park.

The decision also stated that the proposals “failed to conserve and enhance the National Park”, creating an “unwelcome precedent for further oil and gas development in the National Park.”

We are extremely concerned that the full environmental impacts of this decision have not been considered, and that is why we are calling for a moratorium on oil and gas extraction within National Parks.

Oil and gas is a non-renewable source of energy generation which undermines the UK’s progress towards it’s 2050 net zero emissions target. Extraction from within National Parks creates significant environmental impacts for groundwater, noise and air pollution, damaging landscape, tranquillity and wildlife.

The decision gives weight to the “modest support to the economy through employment during the investigation activities”, however, the Climate Change Committee has clearly stated that “Any increases in UK extraction of oil and gas would have, at most, a marginal effect on the prices faced by UK consumers in future” and that we should “cut fossil fuel consumption on the path to Net Zero.”[1] Allowing further extraction from National Parks does nothing to achieve these goals.

This decision further clashes with The Government’s written statement accepting amendments the Levelling Up Bill in the House of Lords which will now return to the House of Commons. The statement accepts the need for strengthened duties on public bodies to deliver more for National Parks and AONBS with a legislative framework which ensures that these areas can do more to support nature recovery and access to nature.

We encourage you to support this amendment in the Levelling Up Bill and reflect on how this decision goes against The Government’s own desire to “safeguard these precious landscapes” and “accelerate the recovery of nature” in our Protected Landscapes. 

In addition, we urge that your department supports Lord Ravensdale’s amendment 191 to the Levelling Up Bill when the bill returns to the commons. The amendment calls for a climate change test for the Secretary of State and local planning authorities to apply to both planning decisions and plan making which would be essential in cases such as this where the environmental impacts of a development have not been given due regard.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Rose O’Neil, Chief Executive, Campaign for National Parks

Dr Alex Clayton, Winchester Action on Climate Change

David Sawyer, Friends of the South Downs

Imogen Oxley, Petersfield Climate Action Network

Eleanor Hill, Alton Climate Action Network


[1] https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/letter-climate-compatibility-of-ne…