County planners have rejected complaints they have done too little to consult the public over applications to explore for gas in east Kent.
Kent County Council is facing criticism from campaigners opposed to fracking.
East Kent Against Fracking says the authority has "torn up the rule book" and failed to properly advertise the applications for test drilling boreholes, has not organised public meetings in villages affected and failed to ensure the company involved organises its own meetings with residents.
Deal With It's Rosemary Rechter and Stuart Cox protesting at Balcombe
The council has flatly rejected the complaints. It insists it has done all it needed to do and says campaigners have misunderstood what planners are required to do.
But in a move that appears to acknowledge the growing public concern about exploratory drilling for gas and oil, planners say the consultation period for the three applications will be extended to mid-November rather than the end of October.
KCC also says councillors from its planning committee are to hold public meetings to hear first hand the views of residents before deciding whether to approve applications.
The applications are by Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd for test drilling sites at Shepherdswell, Guston and Tilmanstone, near Dover.
Although not for shale gas, they are for methane gas and similar extraction techniques are used.
"Their failure to follow the rules means that local people are being denied their democratic rights to make informed comments about extremely important issues in their villages..." - Rosemary Rechter
Rosemary Rechter, who chairs East Kent Against Fracking, said: "The county council's management of these applications has been absolutely appalling.
"Their failure to follow the rules means that local people are being denied their democratic rights to make informed comments about extremely important issues in their villages."
KCC responded by saying it could not insist the company hold public meetings. It also said it had widened the area within which local residents were consulted.
In a statement, the authority said: "The council can only encourage such community engagement to take place, but cannot insist on this and it does not constitute a formal validation requirement."
It added it had complied with the statutory requirement to advertise the applications through a public notice in a local newspaper.
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