Exclusive: Gas search renews fears for Yorkshire moors

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ONE of Yorkshire’s treasured national parks is facing the biggest development threat in its 60-year history from a series of multi-million pound gas and mineral mining schemes.

The latest project to exploit the rich natural resources beneath the North York Moors National Park has been unveiled amid mounting concerns over the impact the projects will have on the environment.

Directors at the North York Moors National Park Authority warned of unprecedented pressures being placed on the famous landscapes that are being compounded by the Government’s funding cuts.

The latest gas project has been announced by a Hampshire-based firm, Egdon Resources, to carry out exploratory drilling work near Westerdale.

It comes in the wake of projects announced by two other companies to tap into both gas and potash supplies in the national park, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

The Yorkshire Post has learnt a fourth as yet unnamed company is in talks with the national park authority for another gas exploration scheme near Hackness.

Its director of planning, Chris France, warned that dealing with the potential developments is placing already stretched resources under even greater strain.

The authority is faced with a 21.5 per cent reduction in its grant from Westminster from £5.1m in the last financial year to £4.3m once inflation has been taken into account.

“We are trying to deal with a series of projects which have the potential to impact significantly on the landscape. At the same time we are facing a 35 per cent reduction in real terms in our budgets, with less staff and resources.

“This is putting intense pressure on what is a small authority dealing with an area that is loved by so many people. It is unprecedented in the history of the national park.”

A planning application is being prepared by Egdon Resources which will be submitted to the national park authority to seek permission to drill the borehole near Westerdale.

Mr France confirmed the location is in a sensitive area that includes “iconic moors and dales landscapes”.

The proposals come in the wake of another scheme which was unveiled in January last year by international mining company Sirius Minerals, to create a potash mine which could employ up to 5,000 people. A third project has been announced by another firm, Moorland Energy, to create a gas plant on the edge of the park at Thornton-le-Dale which could bring up to £10m to the local economy over the next two decades.

Sirius Minerals is carrying out exploratory drilling work to pinpoint the best location to mine potash, a key ingredient in fertiliser, before a full planning application is submitted. Moorland Energy’s proposals went to a public inquiry last year, and a decision is expected by the spring on whether the gas plant will be approved.

Egdon Resources’ managing director, Mark Abbott, confirmed every effort would be made to minimise the impact on the national park. “If Egdon discovers commercially viable gas deposits at Westerdale, we will ensure the environmental impact of any subsequent development is within acceptable limits agreed with the park authority.”

If permission is granted, it will be the second exploratory borehole Egdon Resources will have drilled in the area. The first, in 2006, did not find commercial quantities of gas and the site has since been restored to farmland.

If gas is found at the new location, further planning permission will have to be sought before it can be exploited. A public exhibition will be held in Westerdale Village Hall on March 16.