MP Justin Madders has raised concerns about the length of time it is taking to announce the planning inquiry verdict on plans for shale gas exploration on the outskirts of Ellesmere Port.

Mr Madders has been pressing ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for the outcome of a public inquiry based on Portside North, near to junction 11 of the M53, and for them to explain the delay in making a decision.

Island Gas Ltd (IGas) appealed after Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee members overwhelmingly rejected a plan to flow test a shale gas well on the outskirts of Ellesmere Port.

The company then appealed against the refusal.

It led to a lengthy public inquiry being held at Chester Town Hall in 2019 with an announcement of the verdict expected in April last year, allowing for administrative and other delays created as a result of the pandemic.

However, despite a number of approaches by Mr Madders asking when the announcement will be made, no answer has yet been forthcoming.

In response to Mr Madders’ contention that a “significant period has now passed”, Government minister Eddie Hughes responded: “You will understand the appeal is being decided in a complex policy context relating to shale extraction and in respect of climate change.

“While I am unable to give an indication of the timing, I should assure you that we will write to you with the outcome as soon as we are able to do so.”

Opponents of the highly contentious proposal, including Frack Free Dee campaigners who protested in Chester Town Hall Square during the public inquiry, fear testing a well drilled at Portside North could one day lead to full scale hydraulic fracturing – fracking – with all the associated fears around earthquakes and contamination of water and air.

IGas said its latest plan at Portside North did not involve fracking, but many worried permission would have signalled a step in that direction as the exercise aimed to determine whether shale gas production was viable.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s barrister, Robert Griffiths QC, told the inquiry inspector that the planning system should recognise the threat of climate change by refusing permission for the IGas flow test.

As he awaits the planning inspector’s verdict, Mr Madders said: “It is clear that fracking has no part of our future energy mix and it’s about time Ministers had to courage to say so.”