Reward the places that accept fracking, says senior Tory MP

Dame Vivienne Westwood joins anti-fracking activists on a walk to the  Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
Dame Vivienne Westwood joins anti-fracking activists on a walk to the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
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Communities willing to accept fracking, solar farms or wind turbines should be given significant cash sums, according to a senior Conservative MP.

Tim Yeo, who was elected chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, said the money would ensure the most affected villages would share in the benefits of the projects rather than watch as a “vague payment” by the energy company was spent elsewhere by their local council.

Mr Yeo’s comments came as campaigners stepped up protests against Cuadrilla’s exploratory oil drilling site in West Sussex which has been the focal point of opposition to fracking.

Up to 1,000 protesters are due to join a six-day Reclaim the Power camp on the outskirts of the village of Balcombe to highlight opposition to the controversial extraction method.

Mr Yeo said he believes concerns on fracking must be respected but there is unlikely to be an “absolute veto” to prevent the industry emerging in specific areas.

He added that trying to compel people to accept fracking rather than seeking to persuade them of the benefits would make things harder.

Mr Yeo has formally stood aside as chairman of the Energy Select Committee while lobbying claims made against him by a newspaper are investigated.

He said: “I think a significant cash benefit has to flow back to local communities. Whether it’s fracking, whether it’s a solar farm, whether it’s a wind turbine, if they are willing to accept those in the national interest as part of our national energy mix they should share in the rewards – cash benefits to the local communities.”

At the Balcombe protest camp, campaigners have erected marquees, tents and kitchen and toilet facilities on the site, which is about a mile from the exploratory drilling project.

Cuadrilla, which has said it is unlikely to turn the site into a fossil fuel production area, has scaled back its operation on the advice of Sussex Police amid fears of unrest.

Some Balcombe residents have reacted angrily to the arrival of the anti-fracking protesters en masse, saying they are not representative of all villagers.

Derek Earl, 71, said: “I’m in the middle on the fracking debate, neither for nor against, but what I’m fed up with is the anti-frackers’ behaviour. I’m against these rent-a-mobs who go to every protest going. This whole thing started out with villagers knitting and it was quite a happy atmosphere.”

Ewa Jasiewicz, of No Dash for Gas, said activists have a “working relationship” with the farmer who owns the land on which the camp was being set up.

But Richard Ponsford, who owns Sidney Farm where the camp has been set up, said: “About three or four vans came on to the field and they spent about three hours barricading the field in.

“I certainly did not give my permission. There is no way I would have allowed them in at all.”

Fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies.

Opponents of fracking have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.

David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract “real public support” when the benefits are explained.

The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only “very minor change to the landscape”.

Mr Cameron also claimed a thriving shale gas industry could create tens of thousands of jobs and said there was “no evidence” fracking would cause contamination of water supplies or other damage if properly regulated.

Comment: Page 16.