YP Comment: Fear and smear of fracking debate

ALL eyes will be on Northallerton today when North Yorkshire County Council's planning committee meets to discuss one of the most contentious applications in its history '“ a proposal by Third Energy to begin a fracking operation at Kirby Misperton.

Fracking protesters at a rally in Malton.

A matter of immense local significance to residents who live in the village and surrounding area, the outcome will also have regional and national repercussions. The proposed site is on the very edge of the North York Moors, one of the cornerstones of this area’s tourism industry, and will have ramifications for the future of UK energy policy.

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At the heart of the deliberations will be two key principles. First, should such matters be determined by elected local councillors or should the will of the Government prevail? Second, what comes first – environmental considerations or energy security?

Though this is a matter for North Yorkshire, experiences elsewhere are certainly influencing both sides of the debate and this is borne out by the letter sent to the local authority by 850 elected officials from New York State outlining their experience of fracking.

This is their warning: “Fracking threatens to negatively affect existing economic sectors. Like North Yorkshire, New York has strong agriculture and tourism sectors. Fracking puts these at risk.”

Of course this is a double-edged sword. Those who will argue that this is conclusive evidence are, in all probability, the self-same people who have been irritated at perceived American influence in 
the EU referendum.

Yet it can only be hoped that the fracking debate does not degenerate into the fear and smear style of campaigning which has become a regrettable feature of America’s presidential election and the referendum on this side of the Atlantic. It does not serve the democratic process well.

A&E emergency

THE WELCOME decision to maintain A&E hospital cover in Dewsbury for another 12 months will come as a welcome relief to all those who campaigned against the proposed downgrading of this service. It also buys NHS chiefs time – time that they now need to use, as a matter of urgency, to decide how best to provide casualty cover along the M62 corridor in West Yorkshire from Huddersfield to Pontefract.

This is a matter of life and death and the current stop-start approach is not a remedy – or in the public interest. After all, decisions in the west of the region, like the nonsensical proposal to close Huddersfield Royal Infirmary’s A&E unit and transfer this service to Halifax, have ramifications for other areas.

If, for example, Calderdale Royal Infirmary cannot cope with the increased influx of patients that it can expect under this short-sighted move, it is likely to justify the continued provision of a casualty service in Dewsbury because Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield is already struggling to cope.

The reform prescription is simple. Health chiefs from across the region need to come an agreement on the optimum A&E service for those towns and communities that straddle the M62 – and then decide how best to achieve this strategy. At the moment, it appears that these matters are being decided by bureaucrats for the benefit of bureaucrats rather than the most important people of all – A&E patients.

Cricket’s TV test: Headingley coverage stumped

IT goes without saying that cricket, and broadcasting, are very different today to the era when the BBC broadcast ball-by-ball coverage of England’s home matches. For many aficionados, the official start of summer was the moment the late Richie Benaud began his first commentary of the year with the warming words “Morning everyone”. Those were the days.

Yet it is also short-sighted of Colin Graves, the head of the sport’s governing body, to overshadow yesterday’s pulsating action at Headingley between England and Sri Lanka to say, categorically, that Test cricket will never return to terrestrial television. How can he claim that the younger generation will not watch these matches if they’re not given the chance?

Tactical affairs, Test matches can be just as enthralling as the crash, bang wallop of Twenty20 and the England and Wales Cricket Board should, for example, be open to the idea of the BBC, or one of its terrestrial rivals, being permitted to show live coverage of the final session of each day’s play. It’s surely better than nothing and, coming after schools have finished for the day, it will certainly put the view of Mr Graves to the test...