Published: 12:00, 06 August 2014
A war of words has broken out over whether Dartford will be home to one of the first fracking sites.
The planned extraction of shale gas has caused widespread controversy and is set to hot up with ministers starting the bidding processes to start operations.
The move drew a quick response from Labour Parliamentary candidate for Dartford Simon Thomson, who said the town had been named as one of the areas where the controversial fracking process might operate.
He said: “Residents will be alarmed about being kept in the dark. Local people will be understandably worried that the government has opened the door for fracking on their doorstep.
“This could potentially have a huge impact on our community, yet the local MP and the Conservative leader of the council have remained silent.
“People in Dartford will be alarmed at the thought of fracking taking place under their feet.
“There are huge environmental concerns which simply haven’t been addressed.
“I don’t believe residents will feel assured when they have been kept in the dark over this by both Gareth Johnson and the leader of the council.
“People are right to ask exactly how long Conservative leaders in Dartford have known that our town was being licensed for fracking – and why haven’t they told local residents?
“We’ve already seen drilling begin in the east of Kent, and I’m calling for Gareth Johnson to start being open with us about the plans.”
However, the fact that Dartford, and most of England, was likely to be eligible for fracking licenses has been public knowledge for several months.
MP Gareth Johnson (Con) said the only new development was that the tendering process had begun, and accused opposition politicians of being alarmist.
“I have seen a number of members of Dartford Labour Party are suggesting licences have been granted for fracking in Dartford,” he said.
“This is Dartford Labour Party at its worst. These claims are completely untrue. No licences have even been applied for.
“No fracking can take place without planning permission, consent from the Health and Safety Executive and agreement from the Environment Department.
“The only recent change is that applications for fracking can now be submitted across the vast majority of the country, including the South East, and this was not opposed by the Labour Party in Parliament.
“Most shale gas in Kent is located well away from Dartford so I do not expect us to become a hotbed of fracking applications.
“Most people involved in local politics want to help improve the town but this kind of inaccurate statement just undermines everyone who wants to improve the reputation of Dartford.
“It just spreads alarm and concern without any foundation.
“Why they want to damage the reputation of Dartford by wrongly suggesting that fracking can now take place here is beyond me.”
In response, Mr Thomson agreed he did not know of any individual licences having been granted but said: “We’re not clear about what’s going on and if we’re not then people in Dartford aren’t, either.”
In short, shale gas might never waft this way from bore holes drilled into Dartford soil, but we can still expect a lot of hot air.
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite said: “I think Mr Thomson should be directing his views a bit closer to home.
“Ed Miliband is the one who has spoken out in favour of fracking, not Dartford council, and a lot of his party are very unhappy with Ed over the issue.
“Here in Dartford my view is absolutely clear. We haven’t had a single application for fracking in Dartford, I would be very surprised if we got one and, if we did, I wouldn’t support it.
“That’s my view. Plain and simple. All I have to do now is persuade Mr Miliband to say something similar. The reasons for my current opposition to fracking are pretty straightforward.
"I’m not yet convinced it has addressed anything like enough long-term concerns about its safety or its effects and it has certainly not passed the court of public opinion.
“I am not even sure it is even very economic. It consumes huge amounts of water which is something not in good supply here.”
Of Mr Thomson, he said: “I welcome his sudden interest and if he wants to make a useful contribution it would be great if he could help change Labour Party policy on it.”
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