A bid to drill for shale gas in the South Downs National Park has been recommended for refusal.

Exploratory company Celtique Energie “failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances” to justify drilling in the protected landscape near Fernhurst.

The plan risked having a “damaging effect” on the landscape while heavy traffic would have an “unacceptable impact” on the peace and tranquillity of the area.

A report to the park authority’s planning committee said it would not be in the public interest to permit exploratory drilling for oil and gas.

A final decision has not been made but with it is now expected the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) will formally refuse the bid next Thursday.

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 or gas exploration could take place elsewhere.

“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.”

John Buchanan, of Frack Free Fernhurst, said: “The decision hasn’t been made yet but it’s encouraging news. It’s entirely the right recommendation. We’re cautiously optimistic. We’ve had 18 months of worry. The industry is under-playing the impact on communities and real people.”

Celtique Energie said it had submitted an environmental statement assessing the impact on landscape, transport and noise, and mitigation measures.

A spokesman said: “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.

“The exploration well is a temporary structure that would have a modest impact on the area during its relatively short period of operation but would conclude on behalf of Department for Energy and Climate Change whether oil or gas reserves exist in this location that could contribute to the UK’s energy mix.”