Business bosses, community chiefs, hoteliers and residents quizzed a panel of leaders on the benefits ‘fracking’ could bring to the Fylde coast.
The four-strong panel took questions from 45 attendees of a meeting last night, with points being raised surrounding the gains to be made from fracking, including improved economic and employment prospects, as well as on concerns including the impact on countryside and planned protests.
The event, held in the Paradise Room at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, allowed those with strong views as well as those as yet undecided on the controversial topic to share their thoughts and seek answers.
It came as organisers the North West Energy Task Force published a paper stating communities close to onshore energy developments such as shale gas are set to benefit from increased investment, more jobs and improved infrastructure.
Shale gas fracturing, known as fracking, is a process whereby water and chemicals are injected into shale rock deep beneath the ground at high pressure to release gas.
The panel, comprising Martin Long, of Blackpool business leadership group, Rob Green, of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and Sam Schofield, Cuadrilla’s Lancashire communications manager, was chaired by Professor Joe Howe, director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy at the University of Central Lancashire.
Coun Howard Henshaw, ward councillor for St Leonards in St Annes, queried the environmental impact drilling pads will have on the Fylde and Wyre countryside, adding it is easy for Blackpool business people to support that which is not on their doorstep but will still benefit them.
But Mr Schofield said: “We don’t want you to feel you have to choose between rural Fylde and our industry, we see them both developing together.”
Cuadrilla has put in applications to Lancashire County Council for permission to drill up to four test wells at sites at Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood. Roseacre resident Roy Harrison asked what figures could be given on jobs created for locals close to the sites.
Mr Schofield said reports released suggested 11 jobs per site could be created but there was evidence that each pad supports a further 400 jobs.
Where concerns were raised about the impact planned protests on the proposed drilling sites could have, the panellists called for communities to take the lead on opposing any illegal action.
The meeting was also an opportunity for bosses from Blackpool and The Fylde College to tell of their work to secure millions of pounds of funding to bid for an Energy Centre to be created at its campus to train people in skills needed for the energy and engineering industries.
Attendees, fearing “the PR battle” is being lost, called on bosses behind the industry to now “encourage positive actions” and communicate to the public the benefits it can have as well as allaying any concerns.