A group from the Friends of the Earth along with business owners demonstrated outside on the seventh day of the five week public inquiry into fracking at Blackpool FC.
They were there in response to a survey released earlier in the week by the pro-shale gas group the NW Energy Task Force which claimed a majority of businesses in the area supported the development of a shale gas industry.
Inside the appeal room Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Chamber of Commerce, was due to give evidence in support of Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire County Council’s refusal of planning permission to test frack for gas at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road.
Part of Ms Murphy’s evidence centred on a survey of chamber members which she said showed an overwhelming support for their stance in support of shale gas in Lancashire.
Outside business owners said they and many more opposed fracking.
Craig Hughes, a farmer from Crossmoor – half a mile from the proposed Roseacre fracking site – said he was there as fracking would damage his business and his name had been used on a letter of support for fracking by the Chamber of Commerce without his knowledge.
He said: “I am very concerned about this and about the Chamber having sponsorship from Cuadrilla for its business awards. In no way do I support fracking. I have since resigned from the Chamber as a result.”
Maureen Mills, of Halsall near Ormskirk, was also a Chamber member. She said: “I refute the evidence from Ms Murphy regarding the survey. The numbers do not stack up and the methodology was not sound.”
But inside the hearing Babs Murphy asserted that the vast majority of Chamber members supported a shale gas industry.
She said that as well as the survey, the Chamber’s membership council, which determines over-arching policy, convened to take evidence and discuss the issue before taking a stance in 2013.
She said: “We have been transparent and passed comment in the press and pub articles on our website. The vast majority are supportive of the Chamber’s position, however, like in any democracy you will never get 100 per cent support.”
In her evidence she said the Chamber believed that a developed shale gas industry in Lancashire would create thousands of jobs and boost the economy.
She said although just 22 jobs would be created by the two exploration sites, it would be in the production phase that the “real prize” would be gained.
She said the survey was carried out to see if businesses were ready for a shale supply chain and 10 per cent of the 1,600 full members only responded, with 62 per cent saying they would be interested in being part of the supply chain.
Alan Evans, from Lancashire County Council, questioned Ms Murphy.
He said under planning guidelines the authority was bound to distinguish between the three phases of shale gas development and therefore make a judgement on the benefits and disbenefits of the exploration phase only.
He said: “It is implicit throughout whole of you evidence that you regard the whole overall package as one compendious matter.”
Estelle Dehon, counsel for Friends of the Earth, said the major industries in the appeal area were agriculture and tourism which would be adversely affected by industrialisation on the Fylde. She said: “You do not consider negative impacts on agriculture in your evidence.
Ms Murphy replied: “No we don’t because we don’t believe they are necessarily substantiated.”