National Park authority on the fence over oil hunt

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A NEW National Park Authority has refused to give an indication of whether it will support the extraction of crude oil in the countryside.

The South Downs National Park Authority, which takes over planning for a large swathe of countryside in Hampshire and West Sussex from April, has not made a policy decision on how applications for oil wells will be dealt with.

As reported in The News, Northern Petroleum has found £346m-worth of oil beneath the South Downs at Markwells Wood in Forestside, near Rowlands Castle.

The application for oil exploration was granted in 2007 – despite objections from the South Downs Joint Committee – by West Sussex County Council.

However, from April, planning decisions within the South Downs will be made by the National Park Authority, based at Midhurst, West Sussex.

The authority has released a statement as other parts of the South Downs National Park, including at Catherington and areas north of Chichester, are being investigated by companies as potential oil wells.

The statement said: ‘The twin purposes of the South Downs National Park are to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public.

‘However, the authority also recognises the economic benefits of the natural resources within the South Downs, and will therefore consider all aspects of this case fully at the appropriate time.’

Now that Markwells Wood has been confirmed to have an oil reserve, Northern Petroleum will still have to submit another planning application for permanent extraction.

The statement added: ‘If an application is submitted after April 1, or if submitted before, but due for determination after April 1, any such application would be determined by the South Downs National Park Authority.’