CAMPAIGNERS and politicians are preparing to speak out against plans for ‘fracking’ in Ellesmere Port at a public enquiry.

IGas has appealed against a decision by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) to refuse it permission to test for shale gas in the town.

The firm had wanted to flow test its Portside well, to find out whether the rock formations in the area produce gas or oil.

But councillors voted overwhelmingly to refuse the plans at a meeting on January 25 last year.

A public inquiry will now be held in Chester Town Hall from Tuesday to Friday, January 15 to 18.

Justin Madders, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said: "Portside is not a suitable site for this kind of operation and we are never going to tackle climate change if we continue to invest in carbon producing industries."

Campaign group Frack Free Ellesmere Port & Upton (FFEP&U) says it will be supporting CWaC in its defence of the planning committee’s decision and has issued ‘proof of evidence’ from nine expert witnesses ahead of the inquiry.

It claims this evidence “identifies that the practices of the unconventional gas industry could have detrimental effects on health”.

The group said: “Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic plan identifies Ellesmere Port as an area where deprivation and inequality must be addressed, and huge steps have been made in the regeneration of Ellesmere Port over the last decade.

“The town must not be allowed to regress into a gas field. The IGas planning application and the evidence submitted appears to lack clarity and consistency and this is not a sound basis for planning decisions to be based on.

“Frack Free Ellesmere Port & Upton will object to this IGas development every step of the way.”

IGas are also targeting Ince Marshes near Elton because test results indicate huge shale gas potential.

Mike Amesbury, MP for Weaver Vale, said: "I am watching closely the developments in Ellesmere Port, there will be no support for fracking on Ince Marshes from the communities around Helsby and Frodsham either. Our focus should be on the generation of clean and green energy, not increasing our reliance on the burning of fossil fuels."

Chester's MP Chris Matheson has long-campaigned against fracking. He said: “The council’s planning committee turned down this application, now the same applicants are back to waste more public money on an appeal.

“I welcome the planning inspector to Chester, but I hope they will listen carefully to the case made by the council and the community, rather than listening to the pro-fracking Tory government who want to frack our beautiful countryside rather than legislate to protect local people from it, as other countries have done elsewhere.

"Surely with the devastating international report on climate change published just recently, the days of fracking are behind us and we must move fast to more sustainable energy sources.

"Let’s hope that the message remains clear when this inquiry is over - not here, not now, not ever.”

In a previous interview with The Standard, IGas’s well engineering director said: “I think there is a lot of misinformation that we’re going to do some hydraulic fracturing there. We’re not.

"There’s no hydraulic fracturing planned at that site. It’s a normal well test. We’ll run into an already drilled well, we’ll perforate a zone of interest and we’ll see whether it flows gas or oil.”

A spokesman for IGas added: "87 per cent of households in Chester West and Cheshire are connected to the gas grid, relying on it to heat their homes and cook with. There are also a number of significant employers in the wider area whose businesses rely on gas, which is something that IGas could potentially supply in the future.

"Every major forecast says that we'll still need gas into the 2050s. If we don't develop our own homegrown resource, nearly three quarters of our supply will be imported by 2035, which will be environmentally more impactful than producing it here in the UK."