IT WAS a battle between the economy and the environment as the Isle of Wight Council decided tonight (Tuesday) to reject exploratory oil drilling on the Isle of Wight.

In a crunch meeting of the council's planning committee, members unanimously decided to refuse UK Oil and Gas's (UKOG) application for two exploratory boreholes in Arreton, due to potential impact on tourism and 'demonstrable' impact on the Island's natural environment.

Other grounds were also cited to protect the integrity of the Island's biosphere status.

Committee members debated the application and agreed on the fact they could find no benefit to the local economy.

Planning officers had recommended the application be conditionally granted, nearly 18 months after it was submitted, and in their report said while the economic benefits would be 'relatively minor' at the local level, nationally, the benefits of the proposal would be substantial and 'great weight' must be attributed to that.

Russell Chick, planning officer, advised councillors the planning guidance did not identify the need for local benefits but national.

Matt Cartwright, UKOG's commercial director, said importing 36 per cent of the UK's energy makes "no economic sense when we have oil right under our feet. We estimate in the success case that we could produce up to 18m barrels from our Isle of Wight licence."

Mr Cartwright went on to say the level of investment would be £6 million, 'keeping expenditures with the Island economy to the maximum extent possible' and if successful could be increased to £30 million.

The application was for a three-year period which would have seen the construction, operation and decommissioning of the wells to see if it would be viable to produce oil at that site in the future.

Councillors, however, did not agree with officers and instructed them to build a response that would reject the application.

The final proposal was that significant harm to the landscape would be caused compromising the Island's tourism, and the economic benefits would not outweigh the harm to the integrity of the Island's biosphere status.

More than 1,000 objections were submitted against the application, compared to 70 in favour, along with a petition signed by 4,400 people presented to the Isle of Wight Council.

A peaceful protest was held outside County Hall before the planning committee got underway by multiple campaigns including Don't Drill the Wight.

Two of its members, Sylvia May and Steve Davis, spoke at the planning committee trying to convince councillors to go against the recommendation of planning officers.

Mr Davis, appealing to members of the planning committee said: "You may encounter situations where your heart is telling you something is wrong and your head is telling you you do not have the means to refuse it; this is not one of those situations. This will damage everything it touches."

Local ward member, Cllr Suzie Ellis, was also against the development and a statement read out from her in the meeting said she was elected on a pledge to stop damaging schemes, like this one.

She said it was clear there were marginal and competing policy issues and that the adverse impacts were greater than the reported benefits.