Gas drilling bosses oppose Shropshire public inquiry
Energy bosses who hope to drill for gas in Shropshire have called on the planning inspectorate not to hold an appeal in public.
A public inquiry will be held into an appeal by Dart Energy, which hopes to operate an exploratory borehole for coal bed methane extraction in Dudleston Heath, near Ellesmere.
The energy firm appealed against the decision made by Shropshire Council over the length of time it took the authority to reach a decision.
But Dart Energy now wants planning inspectors to "reconsider" holding the appeal through a public inquiry.
Darren Hendley, planning consultant for the firm, said the company is "concerned and surprised" with the decision to hold the inquiry, rather than an appeal using written representations.
He said: "The decision appears to be based on the amount of third party representations made to the planning application and the number of representations made to the appeal."
But Mr Hendley said the majority of public objections are about fracking – a controversial method of shale gas extraction that Dart has insisted it will not be carrying out on site.
He added that objectors are also concerned about topics that are "wholly irrelevant" to the appeal.
The firm has formally requested the planning inspectorate reconsiders the process, which could be a U-turn for campaigners who have worked hard to see the appeal held in public.
The leader of campaign group Frack Free Dudleston, Chris Hesketh, said: "It would be an injustice and unfair on the public to have only written representations.
"Under the public inquiry, we are able to have a representation who will have an equal amount of time to speak as the energy company and the council.
"With the written representation we only get to send our objections in once, with no right of reply after that."
Mr Hesketh added that the inquiry would see the energy firm cross examined.
He added: "To accuse us of not knowing what we are talking about is frustrating.
"I do not accept their argument and I will continue to press that the inspectorate makes the right decision.
"Everyone has been very clear that this is CBM extraction, and not fracking and I am very proud of the fact that people in the area have been clear about it."
The inspectorate is yet to fix a date for the inquiry but it is expected to take at least three days and will be held later in the year.
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