Falling house prices as a result of fracking could be ‘a really good thing’ for first-time  buyers, according to Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Mike Jones.

But his comments on Chester radio station Dee 106.3 sparked a backlash from opponents of coal bed methane and shale gas extraction.

The debate on fracking follows an ongoing protest camp on a proposed test drill site at Upton and a previous camp next to a test drill at Farndon.

Cllr Jones was asked by local resident and businessman Matt Bryan, who is camping at the Upton site, whether householders living near full scale extraction operations will  see their council tax reduced if house prices fall.

The council leader responded:  “The house prices in Cheshire are broadly 10 or 11 times the average salary.

“So for house prices to come down a little bit after their huge increases over the last 20 years might be a really good thing for our young people who cannot afford housing.

“We are losing our young people from Cheshire. The number of young people in Cheshire is going down because they can’t afford to live here, which is not good for our economic future prosperity.”

Cllr Jones, who is setting up an all-party working group to help develop council policy on fracking, later clarified that he did not concede house prices near drilling sites would fall  because he had ‘not seen the  evidence of that’.

“They may fall in value, they may increase in value. We have the same issues with HS2 where people were saying our house prices have decreased.

“Well actually when HS1 was put in house prices did decrease initially but when the rail was opened they have increased massively.”

Opponent Karen Flynn, from Upton, later said on Facebook:  “House prices may go up? Mike Jones, one of the most ridiculous things you said during the interview.”

Huw Jones commented: “So  the way to tackle the problem of affordable housing is to  wreck the environment, make it an area people do not want to live in, thus reduce house  prices – genius Mike Jones.

“If things do not work out in CWaC I am sure with that type of logical thinking there would always be a job for you in N Korea.”

Anna Chester said: “What a string of ridiculous statements  from the councillor.”

Campaigner Mike Peate said:  “I’m flabbergasted.

“Truly, Mike Jones is only interested in one opinion – his own.”