Update on Markwells Wood restoration

Heather Lealan, Development Management Lead, gives a detailed update on this sensitive woodland site as a restoration scheme gets underway.

The site is within an area of ancient woodland known as Markwells Wood, near Forestside, in West Sussex. Part of Markwell’s Wood was cleared under planning permission approved in 2009 by West Sussex County Council.  This permission allowed the exploration of hydrocarbons for a temporary period to May 2011. A number of further applications were subsequently approved that allowed the exploration phase to continue but required that the site be restored to woodland by 30 September 2016.

In summer 2016 the then Site Operators, UKOG Oil & Gas Investments PLC,  sought to extend the period of time for exploratory works once again through the submission of a planning application, (SDNP/13/01347/CND). This application sought not only to extend the period of exploration but also the production of hydrocarbons from the well for a 25 year period. The operation of the well was for the conventional drilling of oil and did not propose the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Following an extensive consultation period, the application was due to be considered at planning committee in May 2017. It was subsequently withdrawn by the Site Operator before it could be determined. Without an extant planning consent for the site, the Operator was now in breach of a condition attached to planning consent SDNP/15/01470/CONDC that required all buildings, plant and machinery, including foundations and hard standings to be removed and the site restored according to an approved scheme by 31 September 2016.

The SDNPA advised the Operator of their duties to this regard and, following a period of inaction by the Operator, the SDNPA issued an Enforcement Notice relating to Markwells Wood on 14 March 2018. The Enforcement Notice related to planning regulations only and required that the Operator remove all buildings, plant and machinery, including foundations, hard standings from the site within 6 months and that the restoration of the site to woodland was completed with 12 months.

The first part of the enforcement notice has been complied with in regard to the plugging and abandonment of the well, the Operators has confirmed that, “the Markwells Wood-1 Well has been successfully plugged and abandoned in full accordance with the standards specified by the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and Oil and Gas Authority”.

It had been expected that the restoration scheme would have been completed by March this year. However, the Operator has confirmed that the woodland planting will take place in the next planting season from October to March. The SDNPA will be actively monitoring the site until the restoration works are complete to ensure that an acceptable outcome is achieved.