MP Kevin Hollinrake has defended his decision to survey supporters in his Thirsk and Malton constituency on fracking.
The campaign group, Frack Free Ryedale, has described the survey as “astonishingly biased” and criticised the MP for sending it to “a select group of supporters”.
The questionnaire, which uses the web-based tool, SurveyMonkey, was distributed by email last week and had to be completed online.
Thirsk and Malton has the largest number of oil and gas exploration licence blocks of any constituency in the country. It could host the first fracking operation in the UK since 2011 if Third Energy gets permission to frack an existing well at Kirby Misperton.
In the introduction to the survey, Mr Hollinrake said he “would very much like” to know the recipients views on shale gas exploration.
The MP explained why he thought fracking would be good for the UK, if “properly monitored” and “delivered sustainably”. There were then four questions covering proposals being promoted by Mr Hollinrake:
- A producers’ summit planned for 8th February to which gas companies have been invited to discuss a regional plan
- An independent body to monitor fracking developments
- A five-year local plan dealing with fracking traffic, site locations and impacts on the economy.
- Supply of gas from Ryedale gas fields to local people directly by plastic pipe
The final question asked participants whether, taking these issues into account, they supported fracking.
“Why isn’t the survey open to all constituents?”
Frack Free Ryedale criticised the decision not to allow anyone to take part in the survey. Chris Redston, from the group, said:
“It seems very odd for Mr Hollinrake to be conducting a survey on fracking only among his core supporters, without opening this up to the wider public.
“We wonder why this survey isn’t available on his website for all his constituents to fill in.”
“Perhaps he is frightened of what the results would be, particularly given his recent resignation from a Parliamentary Committee, and his decision to vote in favour of fracking under National Parks and AONBs last month.”
“Not meant to be a referendum”
Mr Hollinrake said he had used an email list of Conservative Party members and supporters in the constituency to distribute the questionnaire.
“The survey was not meant to be a referendum of the constituency. We don’t have the capacity to do that. But we do have email addresses of our supporters and members.”
“If we use the results of the survey we will make this clear.”
He said he had used the list before to gain views on issues such as assisted dying and military action in Syria. It had the advantage of covering the whole constituency, he said.
“The purpose of the survey was to get reaction to shale gas and proposals to moderate its impact.”
“Thirsk and Malton is a very conservative area. Just because it was only sent to Conservatives does not mean it is unrepresentative.”
At the last election, Mr Hollinrake polled 52.6% of the vote and was more than 9,000 votes ahead of the closest candidate.
“Survey completely redefined ‘leading questions’ ”
Frack Free Ryedale has also criticised the wording of the questions.
Mr Redston said some people had been “so incensed by the way it was worded” that they sent the questionnaire to the group.
Monica Gripaios, from Hovingham, said:
“What I found most disturbing is the extraordinarily biased wording of the survey, completely redefining the term ‘a leading question’.”
She gave as examples:
Would an independent body monitoring developments at every step of the process would (sic) reassure you that fracking was being delivered in a balanced and measured way?
Do you think a better understanding of the visual impact that demonstrated that the process could be done discreetly, would that ease any concerns you have regarding shale gas exploration?
Sue Gough lives near the site in Kirby Misperton where Third Energy wants to frack. She said:
“Mr Hollinrake is clearly aware that there is a growing anti-fracking sentiment in the local community – perhaps choosing who to send the survey to is a way of fixing the results to his desired outcome, allowing him to publish a bogus survey that he can claim shows local people support fracking.”
- A third public consultation on the Kirby Misperton planning application opened yesterday. It will last for 21 days and follows the submission of further information by Third Energy to North Yorkshire County Council. More details coming soon.