West Sussex County Council has chosen to stay neutral on the issue of fracking despite receiving a petition asking for the county to be named a “frack-free zone”.
The 2,500-name petition was presented before a meeting of the full council in Horsham.
Councillors did not vote on the petitioners’ proposal, but on a motion tabled by Cllr Pieter Montyn, Cabinet member for highways and transport.
Cllr Montyn proposed the council should not take a view on fracking until more research had been done.
He explained taking a stand one way or the other would undermine the council’s planning committee and risk having decisions on fracking taken out of its hands.
Cllr Montyn said: “It would be unwise to support or object exploration one way of the other because we are the planning authority.
“I agree every member should be able to take a position on this, but we should leave the planning committee to do its job.”
A recorded vote was taken and only six councillors – five from Crawley’s Labour group – voted against the motion.
Cllr Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green & West Green) was not present and Crawley’s Conservative councillors all voted with Cllr Montyn.
Cllr Peter Lamb (Lab, Three Bridges and Northgate) said: “The planning committee cannot be bound by this council. Let’s speak up on behalf of the people who elected us.”
Fracking is the controversial process by which water and chemicals are pumped deep underground to release gas and oil reserves.
Exploratory drilling has already shown areas such as Balcombe and Horley have supplies beneath them, but little is known about the possibility of the chemicals getting into the water supply.
One of the concerns raised at the meeting was that of chemicals entering the water supply and the lack of guarantee that fracking would lead to cheaper bills.
Cllr Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate Crawley Central) questioned whether “residents of West Sussex emerge as winners”.