The West Sussex councillor whose responsibility it is to oversee highways and transport issues has defended the council’s decision to not make the county a ‘frack-free zone’.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is the process by which shale gas and oil is released from deep underground. Water and chemicals are pumped quickly through rocks freeing up the fossil fuels trapped beneath.
Lying on the Weald Basin, West Sussex is thought to have large amount of gas and oil and exploratory drilling has already taken place in Balcombe and Billingshurst.
A petition signed by more than 2,500 West Sussex residents was presented to the council on Friday (October 17) requesting the council to put a five year moratorium in place to delay any fracking in the county.
They said that time would enable a more informed decision to be made over the controversial process.
After a lengthy debate, members voted on an alternative motion for the council to stay neutral over the issue becasue to take a position would undermine any decision taken by the planning committee on fracking.
Speaking after the meeting Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings) said: “I have had to emphasise that out role is as a planning authority and we have a planning committee which must be seen to be taking its decision in a completely unfettered and uninfluenced way.
“We therefore decided and my proposal was passed that we should not take a position either way because if you do, either the opponents or the proponents on any proposition could allege that the planning committee had been unduly influenced and we would therefore be open to challenge. That’s what I wanted to avoid.”
Protesters were disappointed about the council’s decision.
Lead petitioner Phil Donaghue, of Wisborough Green, said: “It’s not totally unexpected. At least we made them debate it and record a vote. They have decided to sit on the fence and not take a position.
“It’s not unexpected but still disappointing. They still have the motion they voted on in October 2013, which is completely out of date,
“I’ve left that with them. If they do not want to go as far as making a moratorium, then they should at least update it.”