A drilling rig used by oil prospector Cuadrilla is seen outside Balcombe

Cash urged for fracking solar and wind communities

Communities willing to accept fracking, solar farms or wind turbines should be given significant sums of cash, an MP has said.

Tim Yeo, who has formally stood aside as chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee while lobbying claims made against him by a newspaper are investigated, said the money would ensure the most affected villages would share in the benefits of the projects rather than watch as a "vague payment" by the energy company was spent elsewhere by their county council.

Yeo also said he believes that community concerns on fracking must be respected but there is unlikely to be an "absolute veto" to prevent the industry emerging in specific areas. But he added trying to compel people to accept fracking rather than seeking to persuade them of the benefits would make things harder.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Local communities should be able to share in the benefits, much more substantially than they can at the moment.

“I think a significant cash benefit has to flow back to local communities. Whether it's fracking, whether it's a solar farm, whether it's a wind turbine, if they are willing to accept those in the national interest as part of our national energy mix they should share in the rewards; cash benefits to the local communities.

"Not some vague payment to the county council which people will see disappearing to a car park in the next town but something which comes directly back to the people who live in the villages most affected."

His comments come as energy company Cuadrilla said it was scaling back its exploratory oil drilling operation in Balcombe, West Sussex, which has become a focal point for anti-fracking protest.

The firm, which announced yesterday that it is "unlikely" to turn the area into a fossil fuel production site, said it was acting on police advice to wind down its work at the site as up to 1,000 extra campaigners behind the Reclaim the Power camp move in to the area for six days from today.

As barbed wire and security fences went up around the drilling site, camp organisers No Dash for Gas warned there will be "direct action" – prompting fears of clashes between protesters and police, who have thrown up a daily security operation and relied on help from outside forces.

But despite the dissent, Yeo said it is essential that Britain has significant capacity of gas-fired electricity in the next 20 years and it is much better to use gas than coal.

On fracking, he said: "I think the American experience shows it's possible to do this safely though they have been a bit cavalier in some parts of America but they have very different traditions there.

"I think it does show these are reserves that can be exploited for the national benefit. It looks as though Britain has got quite substantial reserves.

"I would rather we used gas that was produced in this country than bought from the Middle East or even from Norway, and again the American experience shows it has a beneficial effect on price.

"I doubt if the price effect would be quite so great here as it's going to take much longer to roll this out in a crowded country like Britain but it will have some effect in stabilising gas prices."

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