THE Conservative parliamentary candidate for Chester has declared his opposition to fracking.

In a break with national Tory policy, Will Gallagher said he would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with city campaigners against the controversial form of gas extraction.

However, Labour candidate Chris Matheson has hit out at his rival – describing his position as “absurd and desperate”.

He said Mr Gallagher used to be an adviser to Chris Grayling, the former Secretary of State for Transport and an outspoken supporter of fracking.

A former pupil at the King's School in Chester whose family run a car dealership in Deeside, Mr Gallagher has been chosen by the City of Chester Conservative Association to stand in the General Election on June 8.

In an exclusive letter to the Leader and sister paper The Standard, Mr Gallagher said fracking was an issue on which he and Mr Matheson “broadly agree”.

He said: “I know what a controversial issue fracking has been in the city and I understand the anxiety many residents have – particularly in Upton – have about the issue.

“That’s why, in this first week of the campaign, I want to make my view crystal clear: I do not support fracking in Chester.

“I could not support fracking unless I knew that it was safe for those who live nearby, that it is environmentally responsible, and that the local community actually want it.

“I haven't seen the evidence to say it's safe and environmentally sound and it's very clear to me that people in Chester do not want it near the city. For these three reasons, I do not support fracking in our local area.”

He added: “There are some big differences between us at this election – for example on whether Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May is better placed to lead our country through Brexit and protect jobs for the future – but fracking is not one of them.”

Mr Matheson did not mince his words upon hearing the Conservative candidate's views.

He said: “This is an absurd and frankly desperate attempt by the Conservative candidate to evade responsibility on this important issue. Remember he was special adviser to Chris Grayling who said he wanted to roll out fracking and shale gas extraction just a week ago.

“Conservative councillors tried to block Labour's proposals on tightening local planning rules on fracking and we know a senior local Tory councillor has spoken at a fracking conference, inviting fracking companies to Chester. Indeed the current Conservative government changed the law to give ministers the power to over rule local communities who don't want fracking.

“On the other hand I have an extensive track record in Parliament speaking against fracking and asking questions, and Labour has national policy to outlaw fracking.

“The only reason fracking hasn't happened so far is because of the efforts of me, local Labour councillors and local residents and campaign groups.

“Chester residents will see right through this dishonest attempt to hoodwink them and they will make up their own minds who is best to lead opposition to fracking in Chester.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Lizzie Jewkes has also made her anti-fracking stance clear saying she has concerns around safety and pollution.

She said: “As a keen environmentalist and as a founder member of the Green Democrats (the party's environmental pressure group) I am very much opposed to fracking for three main reasons: I am not convinced the process is safe; having worked in the water industry for many years I have concerns regarding the potential to pollute ground water; and I believe we need to move away from using fossil fuels and concentrate on renewable sources of energy.

“Last year, I visited the anti-fracking camps and protests outside Chester and Warrington to offer my support. If elected, I will continue to oppose fracking in Cheshire.”