Energy firm Cuadrilla has been granted permission to explore for oil at a site that prompted fierce anti-fracking protests several years ago.
West Sussex County Council’s planning committee voted to grant temporary permission for flow testing and monitoring of an existing well at the Lower Stumble site in Balcombe, near Haywards Heath.
The site was the focus of high-profile anti-fracking protests in 2013, which saw the arrest of Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The fracking process - in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas - is highly controversial, with opponents warning it can cause earthquakes, pollute water and is not compatible with targets to cut the use of fossil fuels to tackle climate change.
Cuadrilla said the scheme required no fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, because the rock was naturally fractured, and the testing would measure the rate at which oil flows from the well.
But campaigners reacted angrily to the news that planning permission for the work at the site in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty had been granted.
Friends of the Earth South East regional campaigner Brenda Pollack said: “This is devastating news for villagers and everyone who wants a clean and safe environment to live in.
“Where is the democracy when over 2,700 people objected to Cuadrilla returning to this beautiful rural part of Sussex?
“Whether it’s fracking or not, dirty fossil fuels must be left in the ground.
“Allowing companies to drill underground for ever more difficult to extract oil and gas reserves is crazy when it won’t help keep polluting emissions down.
“We need to see a much bigger push for a cleaner future without an over-reliance on oil,” she urged, and warned that Cuadrilla was not welcome in Balcombe.
In a statement, the company said: “We are delighted that West Sussex County Council’s planning committee has unanimously approved our planning application to flow test and monitor the existing exploration well at our site at Lower Stumble, Balcombe.
“This covers the same scope of work as the previous planning permission granted in 2014.
“The well requires no hydraulic fracturing because the rock is naturally fractured. The flow testing Cuadrilla is looking to undertake will measure the rate at which oil flows from the well.”
Cuadrilla also said the permission only runs until 2021 and work has to be completed within two years of starting, including plugging the well with cement and fully restoring the site.
“We will establish a local community liaison group and consult with residents, at the appropriate time, before work commences,” the statement said.