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Chester Labour MP and Tory group leader clash over fracking

Fracking played a role in 2015 General Election so could play a part in 2017

Chester Labour MP Chris Matheson has clashed with Tory council opposition leader Cllr Lynn Riley over the controversial subject of fracking.

The politically hot issue of fracking has surfaced in a row between Labour and Tory as the General Election approaches.

Labour’s anti-fracking Chester MP Chris Matheson claimed pro-fracking Conservatives ‘ran away’ from a fracking debate knowing it would harm their cause because many communities are strongly opposed.

He says their withdrawal of a ‘call in’ caused a Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) meeting to collapse before it had even begun.

Chester MP Chris Matheson and Cllr Matt Bryan join Upton anti-fracking campaigners outside Manchester County Court in 2015.

But the Tories in turn say their intention was to bolster the CWaC Labour administration’s supplementary planning document (SPD) on fracking. The withdrawal of their call-in was down to legal advice from officers that such a political debate could not take place at the moment because of the impending General Election.

Mr Matheson believes his anti-fracking stance was a factor in his 2015 victory when he won by 93 votes with his hope it will help see him returned to parliament on June 8.

It was no doubt the reason he turned up to speak at CWaC's overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday (April 26) where the Tories had ‘called in’ the Labour administration’s SPD intended to create a more robust framework that potential fracking companies must follow.

Anti-fracking campaigner Matt Bryan showed Labour's then Chester parliamentary candidate Chris Matheson around the anti-fracking protection camp off Duttons Lane, Upton(Image: David Holmes)

The MP said: “This call-in was designed simply to delay the implementation of the policy or even to sabotage it altogether. Its aim was clear; to derail objections and facilitate fracking here.

“But I believe when they saw me ready to speak, they caved in, ran away from debate and withdrew the objections. So once again it is me and Labour standing up for the community to thwart Tory attempts to frack.”

Tory opposition leader Cllr Lynn Riley said her position on fracking was that she ‘not against anything until it is proven it is not the interests of my residents’ but feels the extra safeguards put forward by the Labour administration could ‘be improved and strengthened’.

She said: “The planned meeting last night could not go ahead because of the purdah rules – in other words the rules that prevent public facilities being used for political purposes close to an election.

Cheshire West and Chester Tory Cllr Lynn Riley

"The Conservative group were there in force, ready for the meeting, and ready to say we support the SPD but it can be improved further, the errors in it corrected, as well as showing how the council can do so much more to take the views of local people fully into account.”

Cllr Riley added: “Any suggestion that the meeting didn’t take place for any other reason is, in my view, disingenuous and no doubt aimed at hiding the hypocrisy at the heart of Labour’s approach to fracking and fracking policy.

"They say they are opposed to fracking, and stood for election saying they would bring in a moratorium only to find it was unlawful for a council to have such a moratorium and any outright opposition to fracking would prevent them from taking part in planning decisions through predetermination.”

The Chronicle has asked CWaC for a comment on behalf of its legal department.

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