North York Moors at risk from energy projects, park campaigners warn

Go-ahead expected for gas and pipeline project which could eventually provide enough power to heat 40,000 homes

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One of Britain’s most treasured and highly protected landscapes is in danger of being eroded by a series of industrial scale developments to exploit the insatiable demands for energy and mineral reserves, campaigners have warned.

The North York Moors National Park Authority is this week expected to give the go-ahead to a gas and pipeline project which could eventually provide enough power to heat 40,000 homes. The proposal at Ebbertson Moor, near Scarborough, will be located on the site of a gas field that was mothballed in 1974 after it flooded.

But soaring energy prices and new technology have made the well viable once more and park officers have recommended that the scheme by developers, Viking UK Gas Limited, to assess the potential for extraction should be passed at a meeting of the authority’s planning committee on Thursday.

The Campaign for National Parks (CNP), the only national charity dedicated to protecting national parks, has warned against the move which it has described as part of the gravest threat to the landscape in 60 years.

It comes amid a rash of development proposals not just in and around the North York Moors but also at other national parks. Chairwoman Anne Robinson described the decision to go ahead and the Government’s determination to streamline planning rules as “death by a thousand small cuts”.

She said: “There are two principals here. First is that whilst this is natural gas and lower carbon than coal it still perpetuates our reliance on fossil fuels. The second is that we are getting a series of applications for industrial scale developments that are in danger of destroying the integrity of the national park.”

Local and national conservation groups have united against plans for a potash mine in the national park near Whitby. Developers are looking to exploit an estimated 1.3bn tonnes of agricultural fertiliser which experts say is central in staving off a future global food crisis.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles meanwhile rejected opposition from the authority, North Yorkshire County Council and a 10,000-strong petition to give the go-ahead to a proposed £50m gas processing plant on the edge of the national park last summer.

A decision is also due to be made this autumn on whether to build five 130m wind turbines that opponents say will destroy the view of Roseberry Topping, one of the region’s iconic landmarks. 

Ms Robinson said the North York Moors were not alone. “We have a number of developments in a number of national parks. There is fracking in the South Downs, road schemes in four national parks and the Norfolk Broads. There is offshore and onshore wind energy and the Cumbrian nuclear waste repository as well as an international motor sports circuit just outside the Brecon Beacons.”

North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning Chris France, said he would be recommending the proposed Ebberston Moor scheme. “It is small scale and not a big issue. No one has objected.

The commission is only temporary for five years and on a site that is already there,” he said.

However, Mr France said the authority was fiercely opposed to the wind turbine scheme and was deeply concerned over the Government’s reforms of the planning regime.

A spokesman for Viking UK said: “The scheme itself has undergone extensive public and statutory consultation. There is overwhelming public support for it.”

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