Democracy Inaction

Image courtesy of Frank Doyle via Flickr

Failure to represent

Talking to a fellow dog walker this morning, I was reminded just how inadequate our elected bodies can be. We have a local issue which concerns a proposal to drill for oil on Leith Hill. The list of reasons why this is a bad idea is long and varied. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, access would be along narrow sunken lanes wholly inappropriate for HGVs, the activity would threaten the drinking water supply of the local towns, there would be unacceptable consequences for the local eco system, Leith Hill is a much loved area for walkers, cyclists and riders and contributes much to our well being, the oil could be accessed from elsewhere, local residential roads would be turned into lorry parks and more. Not to mention the fact that our climate change commitments, signed up to by the government, mean we should be focussing on replacement sources of energy rather than oil. So the local council is against it, obviously. Well, no. That is to say Surrey County Council is showing little interest in  standing up for the residents and environment they are supposed to protect.  Or maybe it’s just powerlessness against big money? Mole Valley District Council shows more interest in objecting but has little say in the matter.

To be sure, initial planning proposals were refused, appeals were refused. The oil company in question (Europa, since you ask) simply kept on going, throwing money at it, finding loopholes, resubmitting, wearing down the opposition, and moving ahead incrementally.


Resistance has come not from our elected representatives (with a few honourable exceptions) but from the Leith Hill Action Group (who have worked tirelessly over the years to respond to applications, to object to plans, to gather evidence), from many local people who have written, emailed and demonstrated, and from the protest camp which sprang up on the site and remains there despite recent evictions. The protest camp dwellers come from around the country and tend to be people focussed on the issue of oil exploitation, fracking or otherwise. They look and sound rather different to the inhabitants of a Surrey village but there has been a strong bond between local and campers with a regular supply of hot meals and other support being provided; a sense of all being in this together. Just a pity the county council appears not to share that feeling.


There’s no shortage of opinion pieces about the way certain sections of society are not represented by our democratic institutions, or how they feel that to be the case. Brexit has been seen as a result of this, a protest vote. UKIP play on the feeling of alienation, of lack of representation. The consequences are dangerous. The groups most affected are held to be the young, or the unemployed, or those on benefits; people in areas where the traditional industry has died. None of this applies here. The consequences of ‘drilling the hill’ will affect everyone, regardless of employment status, age or class. Drinking water polluted, roads clogged, air quality impacted, and more. So it’s time for our politicians to stand up and be counted. Before we all decide there’s no point in having them.

Tony Earnshaw

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