Fear that fracking threat could return to Shropshire

Anti-fracking campaigners could be forced to restart the fight amid claims north Shropshire may once again face the threat of gas drilling.

The area could be one of nearly 200 constituencies to face the threat of "fast-track drilling" under plans put forward in the Conservative party manifesto.

It comes just over a year after highly controversial plans were finally scrapped to test drill for coal bed methane in Dudleston Heath near Ellesmere, following campaigns and protests against the proposals.

But according to Friends of the Earth, the North Shropshire constituency could soon face the new threat of test drilling without planning permission under plans revealed in the Tory manifesto.

The manifesto plans mean that companies could drill and sample a well – often the first step towards full-scale fracking – under "permitted development", without any planning permission.

The party's plans could also mean that full fracking applications would be considered by the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol alone, rather than the local authority.

In Ellesmere, the plans to operate an exploratory borehole had been contested for months without a final decision from Shropshire Council, before the applicant, IGas Energy, submitted an appeal.

The case then went to the Planning Inspectorate before it was eventually withdrawn in July when Dart's licence with the landowner ended.

Chris Hesketh, leader of campaign group Frack Free Dudleston, said: "We wouldn't have had a chance. We would have had nothing to fight against.

"Through our fight we learned that the planning process was the right thing to do. The company later found the area was unsuitable and dangerous so the planning process did serve its process.

"To make it permitted development, not needing permission, is to compare it to building a small wall in your garden, or putting a satellite on your home. We are talking about gas drilling, it is farcical to think this could be the same."

The Eddisbury constituency, which includes Audlem, near Market Drayton, could also be affected by the plans, it has been revealed.

The village, along with nearby Wrenbury Heath, has previously been named as one of the areas which may be subject to exploration for fracking as part of a list drawn up by the Oil and Gas Authority.

Mr Hesketh said that while he does not think it will come to it, the campaign would "absolutely" be restarted to fight any plans for fracking in the area.

He said: "There is a very strong willingness to stand up and challenge this.

"I don't think it will come to this, I think the industry will implode of its own accord."

However, the manifesto does say there will need to be public support for the schemes, saying local people will benefit financially.

Friends of the Earth senior planner, Naomi Luhde-Thompson, said: "This proposal could see shale gas test drills puncture the countryside left, right and centre - with local democracy trampled underfoot."

Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have all said they will oppose fracking.

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