A bid to explore for oil and gas in a national park should be turned down, planning officials have recommended.
Celtique Energie has put in a planning application for a site near Fernhurst, West Sussex, in the South Downs National Park, to drill a temporary vertical well to test for oil and gas and potentially drill a horizontal well extending out from it.
But South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) officers last night recommended that the planning application – which does not seek permission for fracking – should be refused when the national park's planning committee meets next week.
A report by planning officials said that "the applicant has failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances exist for such exploration and appraisal to take place within the protected landscape and that it is in the public interest to do so".
Celtique said its application was robust and hoped the planning committee would share their view when it met, but the company has already faced opposition from residents near Fernhurst who launched a "legal blockade" to prevent the company from drilling under their land early this year.
A bid by the energy company to explore for oil and gas near Wisborough Green, a conservation area in West Sussex, just outside the South Downs National Park, was also turned down by the county council's planning committee in July.
Trevor Beattie, chief executive for the SDNPA, said: "Any proposal for major development in a National Park must demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist for the development to go ahead and that it is in the public interest for the development to occur.
"Key assessments are whether there is a proven need for this development in this location or whether oil/ gas exploration could take place elsewhere. The report speaks for itself.
"It is for the members of the SDNPA planning committee to consider the report, evidence, the relevant policies and material considerations and make a decision on this important application."
In a statement Celtique said: "As part of our application we have submitted a comprehensive environmental statement that assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with Celtique's operations, including landscape, transport and noise, and describes in detail the steps we would take to mitigate them.
"We are confident in the robustness of our application and hope that the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority shares this view when they meet to decide on the application next week."
The company added that it recognised the importance of the South Downs National Park, and said the exploration well was a temporary structure which would have modest impact on the local area for a short time, but could disclose whether oil or gas reserves existed in that location that could contribute to the UK's energy mix.
Friends of the Earth South East campaigner Brenda Pollack said: "Villagers will be very pleased to see this recommendation to turn down this highly controversial project – the planning committee must heed this advice.
"Exploring for unconventional reserves of oil or gas under one of our most prized areas of natural beauty would be madness. The planning department is right to be concerned about the damage to the landscape, noise pollution and increased traffic.
"Fracked oil won't keep our bills down or help to lower emissions. We should be making good use of the abundant sources of clean energy we have in the UK."