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Essex: Fracking free-for-all fears

Cllr James Abbott

Cllr James Abbott

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Essex needs to draw up a policy to prevent it becoming a fracking developers’ free-for-all.

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That is the stark warning from Green councillors at County Hall.

The EADT revealed in March how the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) had classified zones on the Essex/Suffolk border as having potential for exploitation for shale gas, along with a stretch of the county along the Thames Estuary.

Now James Abbott, leader of the Green group at Essex County Council (ECC) has called for policies to be put in place to prepare the county for an application to explore for gas using the controversial fracking technique.

Any such work would need permits from the Environment Agency, agreement from the Health and Safety Executive and the DECC – but, crucially, planning permission from ECC as the relevant authority for mineral extraction.

Mr Abbott has submitted a motion, to be debated by a full council meeting at County Hall tomorrow which includes: “This council supports the application of the precautionary principle to its own decision-making and policy-making on unconventional fossil fuels and calls on the Government for a moratorium on unconventional fossil fuel exploration within the UK.”

Mr Abbott said: “We are testing the waters with the county council – currently the view seems to be ‘it’s not going to happen so we don’t need to worry’.

“We know Essex is far from a prime area but there is a possibility so we have to be prepared and I am sure residents living in those areas would want that too.

“We are against fracking. But the motion is carefully worded – we need to make sure we have policies in place which do the best for the people of Essex, because at the moment there is little or nothing.

“We want to start the ball rolling on this issue – I fully expect to lose the motion, but the main thing is to get the county council to come up with a formal position on it so if exploration does take place we are ready.”

Mr Abbott, a member of the council’s development and regulation committee which deals with planning issues, said the body could take on the issue as part of its work programme.

An ECC spokesman said: “At this time ECC understands that Essex is not currently identified as a county with exploitable shale gas deposits and fracking is therefore not something being considered.

“The Green Party motion about exploration of unconventional fossil fuels will be discussed at full council next week.”

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