In a blow to the firms hoping to carry out hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in England’s largest county, Elizabeth Ord indicated she was ‘provisionally satisfied’ that the measure outlined by local authorities was sound.
The body representing fracking firms is likely to oppose the decision and said last night it had “a number of concerns” about the inspector’s comments.
The buffer zone around homes was one of several proposals contained within the joint minerals and waste plan for North Yorkshire and York which will guide decisions on applications for fracking and similar work up to 2030.
Other draft measures include legal protection for parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, scheduled monuments, listed historic parks and gardens and the historic setting of York, which would exclude a number of areas around the city from fracking.
A statement released by City of York Council, North Yorkshire County Council and North Yorkshire Moors National Park Authority said that after evidence heard during the day Ms Ord had indicated she was satisfied with this policy.
It added: “With regard to the 500m zone, she has indicated she is provisionally satisfied that this is sound, but has indicated she will give further consideration to representations on this point from the UK gas and oil industry who have objected to this restriction in strong terms.
“The inspector’s indicative view is encouraging and a step towards achieving a heightened level of policy protection from fracking, for the special characteristics of this part of the Yorkshire landscape, the heritage of York and the residents within the plan area.”
Under the proposals to stop fracking near homes, any development application within 500 metres would only be permitted “where it is robustly evidenced that there would be no unacceptable impacts”.
The buffer zone was discussed at an additional day of evidence in the government examination of the minerals plan, which took place over three weeks in February and March.
North Yorkshire County Councillor Andrew Lee said: “We welcome the Planning Inspector’s decision in relation to the 500m zone, as this was intended to strengthen the protection of the world class environment and landscape of our beautiful county and the health and wellbeing of our residents and interests of our businesses.
“The measures in the plan extend the protection already provided in national policy. We will now give consideration to the detail of the planning inspector’s decision about the zone.”
Ken Cronin, chief executive of United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas, which represents the fracking industry, said: “We note the comments made by the planning inspector today and have highlighted a number of concerns which we will be addressing through the process.
“It should be noted that we have safely been operating in North Yorkshire for many decades within local communities and we see that will continue.”
North Yorkshire is expected to play host to the next big front in the battle between the shale gas industry and environmental campaigners when operator Ineos starts work which could pave the way for fracking this year.
The firm, which carried out a seismic survey last year across nearly 100 square miles of Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire, expects to do similar work in North Yorkshire in 2018.