UK fracking’s future at stake as county considers firm’s proposal

Anti-fracking protesters are expected in Northallerton today
Anti-fracking protesters are expected in Northallerton today
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NORTHALLERTON today becomes the unlikely venue where the future of an industry could be decided.

At one level the committee of North Yorkshire county councillors sitting today are simply assessing a planning application in the same way as any other.

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But the fact that the application involves the controversial fracking mining method will bring national attention on their deliberations.

In legal terms, whatever verdict the county’s planning committee reaches no precedent will be set. Every planning application, whether for fracking or a new garage, has to be considered on its merits.

But Lancashire County Council rejected two applications for fracking operations last year and a further rejection in North Yorkshire would raise serious questions over whether the industry will ever gain a foothold in the UK.

The Government has championed the creation of a UK fracking industry, arguing it will be a source of energy security, jobs and tax receipts and not pose risks to the environment or health.

But if North Yorkshire rejects Third Energy’s application at Kirby Misperton, ministers will have to face up to the possibility that local council planning committees will never agree to fracking proposals no matter how many reassurances they are given.

That scenario would leave ministers with a uncomfortable choice of overiding local opinion or giving up on the dream of a UK fracking industry.

It is the sense that there will be wider implications from the North Yorkshire decision that will draw protesters and national media attention on County Hall, in Northallerton, today.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who was due to address campaigners stationed outside, had to withdraw due to illness but there are rumours of other celebrity appearances in the anti-fracking cause.

Support for fracking is likely to be reserved to those making the case for Third Energy in the meeting, but the industry insists the anti-fracking campaigners are not representative of broader public opion and groups like Friends of Ryedale Gas Exploration maintain many in the area believe the industry could bring valuable jobs and money to the district but are concerned about speaking out.

The industry certainly has one valuable local supporter in the shape of Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake who has made the case that a well-regulated industry can bring economic benefits to the area.

Third Energy are not alone in believing the area could have potential for the use of fracking.

Energy firms Cuadrilla and Ineos have also acquired licenses to explore for gas in the area with the latter already beginning a series of consultations to inform local people about their plans.

The energy industry, anti-fracking campaigners, Government ministers and officials will all be keeping a close eye on the decision taken by the 11 members of the North Yorkshire County Council planning committee.