Fracking for shale gas is to go ahead in northwest England despite opposition from residents and the local council.

In a landmark decision, UK Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has overturned a decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse shale gas firm Quadrilla the right to start exploratory drilling at a small hamlet called Little Plumpton.

Quadrilla appealed against the ruling and the government has now given the company the all-clear to begin work at the site next year.

A new decision on whether Javid will reverse another site refused permission by the local council is pending.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the decision was “a step in the right direction, but fracking alone is not the solution to meeting the UK’s future energy demands”.

“It is important to recognise the role that gas plays and is likely to play in our energy and industry systems today and for the foreseeable future. Our incumbent heating networks that are between 40-45 per cent of our total energy use in the UK are hugely dependant on gas. Currently gas comes to the UK from all over the world and experimental sites, such as the one in Lancashire, will enable Cuadrilla, along with government and the local community, to understand how local production could contribute to distributed energy and industry networks in that region.”

DR Baxter said that “the fact that thousands of objections have been lodged about the plans shows that there is a lot more work that needs to be done by engineering institutions, oil and gas companies and others in favour of trials like this to engage the public”. 

Chris Lewis, Energy Advisory Partner at EY, said that Javid’s decision “opens a window to a £33bn investment opportunity and the potential to create over 64,000 jobs”.

“Securing the future of the next generation of energy users requires that we maintain an open mind when it comes to building the UK’s energy mix. Investing in home grown energy in the form of shale gas can reduce the UK’s reliance on expensive higher cost imported gas. 

“Now that the launch pad is in place the focus needs to be on getting on with exploration, developing the relevant skills needed to unlock investment and working closely with local communities.”

But Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin said: “This fudged decision shows the government is struggling to force fracking on a reluctant nation. Fracking will put our countryside and air quality at risk. Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris and is coming into force next month makes little economic or environmental sense”.