POLITICS

Tory Fracking Concern Grows As Ex-Minister Nick Herbert Says It Could Ruin Countryside

05/08/2013 11:21 BST | Updated 05/08/2013 11:31 BST

Fracking is causing anxiety in Tory strongholds in the South of England, a senior MP has warned.

Nick Herbert said there was a "fear of the unknown" in his Sussex constituency, comparing it to the threat posed to the countryside by new housing developments.

Meanwhile, a Lancashire Conservative MP, Eric Ollerenshaw, warned the debate was in danger of creating a 'north-south divide' after Lord Howell suggested it should take place in the 'desolate' north.

Last year, when fears were raised about the impact of drilling near Blackpool, the Daily Telegraph urged Britain to "carry on fracking", scoffing that 'ministers will doubtless be urged to ban this dangerous, polluting practice, before the whole of Lancashire slips into the sea.'

On Monday, it carried its interview with Herbert under the front-page headline "Fracking is 'spreading fear through the countryside'", suggesting growing unease about the process in the shires.

fracking

Cuadrilla drilling equipment in Balcombe, West Sussex, where there have been fracking protests

"There is a lot of concern about the impact of new housing in West Sussex," Herbert told the paper.

"This (fracking) is seen as a second threat to the countryside.

"People are worried about the implications and they don't have enough information to know how damaging it will be.

"It is the fear of the unknown that is exacerbating local concerns. People understand the national arguments about the need for secure and cheap energy, but they don't know how much this is going to damage the local environment."

It comes after the energy minister joked that the controversial gas extraction would make the walls of houses in the South East shake.

Michael Fallon told a private gathering: "It's from Dorset all the way along through Hampshire, Sussex, East Sussex, West Sussex, all the way perhaps a bit into Surrey and even into my county of Kent. It's right there," he said.

"The beauty of that - please don't write this down - is that of course it's underneath the commentariat. All these people writing leaders saying, `Why don't they get on with shale?' We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive!"

Ollerenshaw, who represents Lancaster and Fleetwood, said: "What Lord Howell was trying to say just reinforces, if you like, a northern prejudice that southerners haven't got a clue what the North West is like, or indeed the North East.

"It does look as if the rest of the country wants to use Lancashire as its energy base. There's a particular environmental concern about the use of water and the impact on the water table... but long term what is going to be the benefit to the area where this is going to happen?

"This is not to become a North-South divide... We want (a) level playing field across the country. We do not want - and it looks at the moment - that the North gets the dirty end and the South sucks up all the energy."