THE chairman of a new council committee set up to look into the controversial fracking technique, has said there will be a “clean slate” when councillors look into the issue.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has set up a cross-party working group to examine unconventional gas and oil techniques after a large public outcry to a number of test drilling sites in the borough including in Farndon and Upton were passed by the planning committee.
Members at Wednesday’s executive meeting agreed the move to help inform decisions on any future planning applications.
Cllr Justin Madders told the meeting: “It is right that we are reflecting public anxiety over this issue, and that we are seen as an honest broker who is prepared to examine things on the facts.
“It is important that any planning applications are not dealt with under delegated powers. They must be seen to be dealt with by the planning committee in an open and transparent way.
“We must gather expert evidence on both sides of the debate and have an open and transparent process which the public can contribute to, so we can come to an informed decision.”
To date, the authority has received no applications to extract shale gas anywhere in the borough.
Permission for exploratory drilling for coal-bed methane has been granted at sites in Dutton’s Lane, Upton Heath; and Kingsmarsh, Farndon; but no application for extraction have been received.
Cllr Mark Williams, who will head up the seven-strong group, said: “This is a very good opportunity to fully understand the arguments for and against unconventional gas and oil techniques – to carefully listen to and question both sides of the argument and eventually form a balanced opinion and view.
“We will listen very carefully to expert opinion and I look forward to the time when we will make a call for evidence so that both objectors and supporters will be able to present their evidence to an all party working group.
“These meetings will be held in public for transparency and public interest.
“I must stress that everyone who is a member of this important all party working group will be starting from a clean slate – they will need to understand the processes and technical aspects as well as carefully considering and questioning the evidence-based arguments both for and against unconventional gas and oil processes.
“I intend to ensure that – over the coming months – both sides of the argument get a full and fair hearing so that we can ensure that we can come to a balanced view.”
Outside of the meeting dozens of protesters made their feelings about fracking known but welcomed the council’s move to look into the issue more closely.
One protester, Matt Bryan, said: “The three main parties are all behind fracking. We want a transparent working committee and that is why we are here tonight. We are getting major local support which has been increasing because people are beginning to realise what a big issue this is.”
The campaigners claim the test site is potentially dangerous because it is too close to houses, Upton High School and Chester Zoo. They say the drilling could cause environmental damage as well as significantly reduce house prices in the area.
Last month campaigners set up a permanent camp site on Duttons Lane, Upton, to try to stop the tests by blockading the entrance.