YP Comment: Council election offers litmus test on North Yorkshire fracking fears

The normally-tranquil environs of North Yorkshire have become a national battleground over fracking in the past year but this week's local elections will provide something of a litmus test on the true strength of local feeling in regard to the issue.

A protester at an anti-fracking camp near Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire. Danny Lawson/PA Wire

North Yorkshire County Council gave permission last year for the controversial shale gas extraction process to be used at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, leading to a High Court battle and even the establishment of a protest camp on the outskirts of the village that remains in operation.

The issue has caused such division locally that one pub has reportedly banned the topic from being discussed amongst customers because of the arguments it causes.

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While the topic appears unlikely to result in a substantial political earthquake at a council that has been run by the Conservatives since 2001, fracking opponents believe the rumblings of discontent it has caused will have some impact at the ballot box on Thursday.

The Green Party hopes anger over fracking and its involvement with protests against the proposals will help to deliver its first-ever North Yorkshire county councillor, with local activists having particularly high hopes in the Falsgrave and Stepney division on the edge of Scarborough.

However, North Yorkshire Conservatives point out, with some justification, the decision to allow fracking came through the legal planning process and was based on Government policy, which sees the mining method as a key part of the country’s future energy production strategy.

With tensions continuing to rise in Kirby Misperton and interest from a number of firms in exploring rock formations under different areas of North Yorkshire for gas, the local and national policy headache caused by fracking will not be disappearing whatever happens in this week’s council elections.

School fine lottery

THE scale of the fines imposed across Yorkshire on parents who take their children out of school during term time is both surprising and an illustration of what a thorny issue this has become.

More than 30,000 fines totalling £1.1m in the past 18 months clearly demonstrates that substantial numbers of parents do not feel obliged to stick to the school holidays when taking their children away.

A better balance needs to be struck over term-time holidays, especially following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month which upheld a fine imposed on a father who took his children out of school. Currently, the picture in Yorkshire is one of a postcode lottery with some areas pursuing absences more vigorously than others.

Education authorities argue convincingly that children’s education will suffer if they are taken out of classes, and helping them to catch up on their return places additional pressure on already over-stretched teachers.

Yet responsible parents argue equally convincingly that they know what is best for their children, and in certain circumstances a term-time holiday may benefit their development and even their learning. The looming toughening up of enforcement threatens to put schools and parents at loggerheads with each other, which neither wants.

It is inarguable that children should be in school for the overwhelming majority of term time, yet there should be sufficient flexibility in the system to accommodate the wishes of parents who have legitimate reasons for taking them out, and a more even-handed approach to issuing fines.

Just the ticket

While part of the undoubted charm of the North Yorkshire Moors is the area’s remoteness from the hustle and bustle of urban life, its isolation means it is difficult to enjoy all it has to offer without access to a car.

As such, this week’s early return of the annual Moorsbus service, making the National Park accessible to non-car owners during the summer months, can only be cheered. The volunteer-run service is running on twice as many days compared with last year, with new routes introduced.

Supported by the North Yorkshire Moors Association, co-ordinators are also seeking support from town and parish councils to meet their running costs. But with the bus service helping the local economy by bringing in extra tourists, as well as providing residents with routes that otherwise wouldn’t exist, the scheme deserves local support from prospective passengers to ensure it remains viable into the future.