A Tory peer has admitted his call for fracking to happen in the ‘desolate’ North East of England was a “stupid error”, as he actually meant for it to be in the ‘unloved’ North West.
Lord Howell admitted that a ‘furore’ was caused when he told peers that the controversial gas production process could be carried out in the North East without damaging the environment.
"There obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance, and those about justified worries," he said, to gasps in the chamber.
"But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."
The reaction to Lord Howell's comments forced the peer, who is father-in-law to Chancellor George Osborne, to apologise for "any offence caused".
Speaking later to the Telegraph, the peer said: “What was in my mind was much more the drilling going on off the Lancashire coast."
"But it came out of my mouth as the North East, which you can blame me for rightly. And that has created a great furore.”
Howell, who was a government energy adviser until April, admitted that his original fracking comments were a ‘stupid error’.
The southern-dwelling peer added: “The general story is right – that we want the derricks for fracking to be far away from residences in unloved places that are not environmentally sensitive. I don’t want to see gas fracking subsidised like wind farms are. A lot more care must be taken than has been the case with wind farms, which have caused terrible desecration. It’s odd that they’ve decided to do this in sensitive places down in Sussex.”
Lord Howell’s latest on the North West of England sparked further condemnation from local MPs. Bill Esterson, Labour MP for Sefton Central, called on George Osborne to ‘immediately distance himself’ from his father-in-law’s comments and for the peer to retract what he said.
“The comment by George Osborne’s father in law, Lord Howell, shows a complete disregard for the people of this country and especially for people in the north of England. The Tories have shown yet again that they have contempt for the majority of people. George Osborne should immediately distance himself from these remarks and Lord Howell should withdraw them,” he told the Huffington Post UK.
Barbara Keeley, Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South, said: “The threat to quality of life for communities in the North West from fracking is as real as for communities that Lord Howell describes as “beautiful” areas in the South.
"It is clear to me that Tories like Lord Howell do not understand the real fears that communities have about the impact of fracking on their lives. This is an industrial process and it is not happening “well away from anybody’s residence” but right in the middle of our communities.”