Public protests against fracking could doom Conservatives in marginal seats, says Yorkshire academic

There have been huge protests at the first UK fracking site in Lancashire.
There have been huge protests at the first UK fracking site in Lancashire.

Government plans to create a gas supply based on fracking will lead to "overwhelming" public protests that will do "incredible damage" to the Conservatives in marginal seats, a Yorkshire academic has claimed.

Dr Simon Sweeney from the University of York told a fringe event at the Conservative conference in Manchester that the party's official support for the controversial hydraulic fracking technique was "astonishing".

Plans to carry out fracking in Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire attracted huge public opposition, though the operation failed to get consent from the Government and work began to remove equipment from the site last year.

Read more: Fracking in Yorkshire 'a dead duck' after Lancashire earthquakes, says leading campaigner

Dr Sweeney, a senior lecturer in international political economy and business, said there was no question that protests from young people about environmental issues were going to grow.

And he said: "So therefore, it's fairly astonishing, that a mainstream political party in government and aspiring to remain in government has a policy which today is still supporting fracking."

The academic added that there were 200 Parliamentary constituencies with a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, where fracking could potentially occur.

He said: "The Government's aspiration to create a gas supply based on fracking will involve hundreds of wells, public protests will be overwhelming.

"This will do incredible damage to the Conservative Party in marginal seats, it will cost them those seats, and in rural areas targeted for fracking, the opposition to the industry will be more profound with every passing week, as a threat remains."

Diane Cheesebrough, a Conservative who chaired the meeting, said 40 of the 200 affected seats were marginals, with 17 held by the Tories.

She added that in 2017 an anonymous Tory MP estimated that for every Conservative seat where fracking was an issue it took 1,000 votes off the sitting MP's majority.

She told the audience: "If you just do a really cold-hearted review of what is happening on the ground, this is causing us some issues and concerns as a party.

"Regardless of what your views are, we have to have public consent and actually what we have after eight years of what can only be seen as a very overt and aggressive policy of both financial and legislative support, what we actually have is a groundswell of opposition in every area where there are PEDL licences."

The fringe meeting also heard from Keane Duncan, the leader of Ryedale council in North Yorkshire, which has imposed a moratorium on local fracking.

He said there was a cross-section of support across the political parties on the council that "this was not the right thing for our area".

Coun Duncan, the youngest Tory council leader in the country, admitted it was unlikely fracking would threaten the 19,000 majority of local MP Kevin Hollinrake.