By Ray Fleming

AS someone born and brought up in what the former Conservative minister and adviser Lord Cowell has just called the “desolate” North East of England I have to join the chorus of protest at his suggestion that this area would be more suitable for shale gas “fracking” development than the “more beautiful” south of England. The fact that Lord Cowell is George Osborne's father-in-law is less important than that he has been an adviser to the government on energy issues until as recently as last April. Everyone agrees that the Conservatives' long-standing problem in winning parliamentary seats in the North of England has still not been resolved -- nor is it likely to be while people like Lord Cowell speak their minds as he has done, notwithstanding his hurried and inadequate apology.

A map of UK shale gas reserves shows Middlesbrough, my home town, on the very edge of the beautiful and as yet unspoiled Yorkshire Moors where in my youth I spent many days and that are now part of a National Park. I wonder whether Lord Cowell has ever been there. Someone who knows it well spoke for a lot of people yesterday in describing the area as “very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring, historical, advancing, not desolate” -- the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in dismissing the opinion of his fellow members of the House of Lords.

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