West Sussex fracking opponents meet county council head

A delegation of opponents of fracking met the leader of West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith, today at County Hall in Chichester.

The delegation comprised villagers from Balcombe, Fernhurst and Wisborough Green/Kirdford, where the oil and gas companies, Cuadrilla and Celtique Energie, want to carry out exploratory drilling. The villagers were joined by anti-fracking campaigners, who had camped on the lawn outside County Hall since the weekend. They raised issues about fracking and the decision by the county council to seek a possession order to remove people camping on verges at Cuadrilla’s site at Balcombe.

After the meeting, Louise Goldsmith said: “I believe in local democracy, and people’s right to protest lawfully. That’s why I agreed to the meeting. We had a very constructive exchange of views, and it is clear there is a need for a national debate on this issue.”

She said as a result of the meeting there was a closer understanding of the views of some people in our local communities. She said: “We have agreed to meet the same group again in December when we will discuss how best to facilitate a wider event to look at all aspects of fracking. This would also include those in favour of this method as well as technical experts from both sides of the argument. I hope we made the point clearly that as a planning authority, we have to be independent and impartial when dealing with any application for planning permission. It would be wrong to pre-judge any application, and these have to be dealt with on their merits.”

Louise Goldsmith said the council had discussed fracking earlier this month and she had written to all West Sussex MPs, copied to David Cameron, calling for a national, evidence-based public debate about the facts of fracking. She said she would write again to Mr Cameron, repeating her request.

Councillors were, she said, “concerned that, at present, the various agencies with responsibilities for energy, environment, public health and planning do not appear to be acting in a joined up manner and, as a result, the public are left confused about who is responsible for what and how to influence those bodies. This leaves the debate open to be led by those who take more uncompromising positions. Given its significance in relation to the economy and future energy security its seems to us to be wrong to leave it in this way.”

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