Later this month Lancashire County Council will finally decide whether exploration for onshore gas can go ahead at two sites in the county.

We know what a group of protesters feel about the idea. They have attracted widespread media coverage for their opposition activities in Lancashire and Salford. But do they speak for the majority of people in the county and beyond?

Centrica Energy is bringing together a panel of guests next Wednesday to take part in a live debate on the role of gas in the region. The panel members are all in favour of the go ahead but I will be the independent chair and all views are welcome. The phone in will take place on Wed June 10th at 5pm and anyone wanting to take part or find out more should register at

There are believed to be trillions of cubic feet of shale gas under Lancashire. To get it energy firms would need to use a process called fracking. Water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract the gas.

Centrica holds a 25% stake in energy company Cuadrilla’s Bowland exploration licence which will soon be determined by Lancashire councillors. They have a difficult decision because opponents have dominated the debate spurred on by the so called Blackpool earthquake in 2011, TV pictures from America showing tap water being set on fire and a belief that we should be cutting our dependence on carbon based fuel due to global warming.

Councillors also will have in mind that their planning officers initially recommended that the drilling applications be refused. Crucially however their objections related to surface noise and traffic movements. They gave the green light to the drilling operation. Cuadrilla hope they have addressed those issues now.

There is the positive case for fracking in a county that has been meeting the nation’s energy needs since the days of the Lancashire coalfield. Heysham provided one of the first nuclear power stations and for thirty years offshore gas has been extracted from Morecambe Bay.

The UK is facing a potential energy crisis due to the closure of old nuclear plant, environmental limits on burning coal and a growing reluctance to rely on Russia for gas supplies. Our margins are slim and could be severely tested during a hard winter.

There is also the potential for extra jobs at companies like Centrica who already employ 5,000 people in the North West supporting 10,000 people in the supply chain.

I look forward to hearing your views next Wednesday at 5pm.


I reported on the former Lib Dem leader in his good times and his bad. His opposition to the Iraq War seems more justified every day that ISIS advances across Syria and Iraq.

He was the only Lib Dem MP to vote against his party going into coalition with the Tories in 2010. As they sit in parliament with their eight members now, perhaps he was right about that too.

My last interview with him at a Southport conference in 2005 was not a happy experience. He was clearly struggling with his alcohol problems and I prefer to remember his sunny smile and firm convictions.

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The debate about the future of our northern airports is about to take off as a number of issues come to a head and the incoming government next May is challenged to decide on a new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow


Up North the big player is Manchester. Brimming with confidence as part of an airport group that also owns Stansted, it is seeing Airport City being constructed to massively increase its retail offer and freight handling capacity. It wants more international slots to fill its unused capacity.


Leeds Airport is considering a £38m investment package but road links to the A65 remain an issue. Newcastle now has a daily flight to Dubai but are concerned about the Scottish government potentially reducing Air Passenger Duty.


Elsewhere the picture is less rosy. Blackpool Airport recently closed altogether although there are hopes that it might be re-licensed particularly to service the Morecambe Bay gas industry. Finally there is Liverpool where passenger numbers are falling from 5.3 million in 2011 to 4.2 million in 2013.


When the Davies Commission was set up to decide on the options for maintaining the UK’s role as a major international hub, airports in the North and Midlands pointed out their available capacity to take more international flights. In contrast Heathrow has been full for years.


The option of including Birmingham and Manchester in particular in a dispersed huge hub that would also include Heathrow and Gatwick was dismissed by the chairman Sir Howard Davies. The reasoning was that airlines wanted to fly out of London and if attempts were made to bribe or give them an incentive to go elsewhere then they had other “hub” options around the world. Hubbing is crucial for airlines, finding the airport that can offer the best options for interconnections. The airlines take a global view and therefore the UK is in hub competition with not just Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but Dubai as well.


More recently the Davies Commission rejected Boris Johnson’s idea for a new airport in the Thames estuary which would have cost £90bn.


Final consultation is now under way on the remaining options which are two alternatives at Heathrow and one at Gatwick. Sir Howard Davies has been deliberately told to make his final report just after the General Election as this is a decision politicians don’t want to take. There have been years of prevarication already because whichever decision is taken residents will be up in arms over the noise issue.


It is on the cards that no decision will be taken by the new government. The Blair/Brown government, with working majorities funked a decision. If we have a minority government in May, how likely is it that a decision will be made? The Times reported Sir Howard’s somewhat intemperate reaction when I put this possibility to him recently. It was along the lines of what do you expect me to do? It was the understandable reaction of a man trying to do a very difficult job.


That won’t worry northern airports. Sir Richard Leese,chairman of Core Cities, told me recently that he rejected the hub concept, wanted the whole issue of a new runway in the South East to be put off yet again and wanted Manchester’s case to be considered once again. He pointed out that HS2 would have its own airport station which strengthened the case for Manchester solving the South East runway capacity problem.