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Campaigners urge nationwide response after UK fracking project approved

Published 24/05/2016

Anti-fracking campaigners react outside County Hall, Northallerton, after councillors approved an application by UK firm Third Energy
Anti-fracking campaigners react outside County Hall, Northallerton, after councillors approved an application by UK firm Third Energy

Anti-fracking campaigners have called for a nationwide response to fight the controversial gas extraction technique after a landmark decision to allow it to start in North Yorkshire.

Groups opposed to the development outside the village of Kirby Misperton, near Pickering, have launched a People's Declaration in a bid to stop fracking, as one of the councillors who voted in favour of the application confirmed he has received intimidating emails.

Frack Free Ryedale, which led the campaign against the application by the UK firm Third Energy, launched the declaration along with Friends of the Earth.

It said in a statement: "We urge and will support the Government to develop a balanced long-term energy policy that will achieve our globally agreed climate change targets.

"Today we resolve to continue to fight to remain free from fracking, to protect our communities, our beautiful countryside, our air and water, and to protect the future of the planet. We ask people across the country to join us by supporting this declaration."

Councillors in Northallerton voted by 7-4 on Monday to give the green light to the first fracking operation in the UK for five years.

The controversial decision has been condemned as a travesty by those opposed to the move, but a "victory for pragmatism" by those in favour.

The vote allows Third Energy to frack for shale gas using an existing two-mile deep well - called KM8 - drilled in 2013.

The fracking application is the first to be approved in the UK since 2011, when tests on the Fylde coast, in Lancashire, were found to have been the probable cause of minor earthquakes in the area.

Since then, two high-profile applications to frack in Lancashire have been rejected by councillors and are now the subject of appeals.

One of the councillors who voted for the application, Tory Cliff Trotter, confirmed he had received intimidatory emails.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Yes, a few. But that's par for the course, I suppose.

"But we tried to look to the future, the best for the people of England."

He said: "I'm totally against nuclear power stations and if we've got the resources under the ground - we've got coal there, we've got gas there, we're bringing it round the world to try and run this country with all these things that we're importing. And we've got it on our doorstep. But it's just how we do it.

He said: "I'm not an expert, I'm not a professor. The number of professors that were talking - we get one saying yes, and one saying no."

Friends of the Earth said it will look at whether the decision can be challenged, and campaigner Simon Bowens said: " This is an absolute travesty of a decision but the battle is very far from over."

Planners had recommended the application be approved, despite acknowledging that the majority of representations received in consultation were objections.

Vicky Perkin, a council planning officer, told the committee that, of 4,420 individual representations, 4,375 were objections and just 36 were in support of the application.

The Government has said it is going "all out for shale" to boost energy security and the economy.

But opponents fear fracking - in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas - can cause problems including water contamination, earthquakes and noise and traffic pollution.

Environmentalists also warn that pursuing new sources of gas - a fossil fuel - is not compatible with efforts to tackle climate change.

Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy, said work would not start at the site for "months and months" and would initially be an "exploration phase".

When asked if this was a precedent for further fracking applications to be approved, he said: "We don't look upon it like that. We are a local company, we see ourselves as a local company. For us, this is about testing what's in our local area."

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said it is "a very important first step".

North Yorkshire Council chief executive Richard Flinton said the decision does not necessarily mean similar decisions will follow and c ommittee chairman Peter Sowray said h e knew people would be angry about the decision but was "comfortable" with the outcome.

Friends of the Earth said that seeking judicial review of the councillors' decision was one option being looked at by campaigners.

L egal adviser Jake White said: "Communities have no right to appeal planning decisions.

"However, it is possible to seek judicial review of the decision and Friends of the Earth, working closely with the local community, will consider the detail of yesterday's decision carefully with a view to deciding how best to proceed."

The family that runs the world famous Castle Howard stately home said the consultation process was "something of a sham".

Nicholas Howard, who runs the estate made famous by the 1980s Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, said he feared fracking at KM8 could damage a range of historic buildings.

Mr Howard told ITV Calendar News: " Probably the most important thing that I can do is to get a fully independent geological survey for the area to find out for myself because there is enormous greyness in the way that things are described.

"The consultation process is something of a sham because the Government has already announced that it wants to go ahead with fracking and it appears not to be taking no for an answer."

Castle Howard is about seven miles from Kirby Misperton.

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