FEARS that fracking is on its way to Ryedale escalated this week after it was suggested that council chiefs had set aside money to widen roads to a private company’s drilling site.

Campaign group Frack Free North Yorkshire, set up to fight fracking in Ryedale and North Yorkshire, said information about road widenings had been leaked to the group.

The source said that roads leading to the Third Energy site in Kirby Misperton will be widened and work could begin as early as Monday.

This has led to increased concerns among environmental groups and residents that the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking could be introduced at that site.

North Yorkshire County Council denied that roads leading to the Third Energy site will be widened.

But Chris Redston, of Frack Free Ryedale, is calling for a public inquiry. The group was told that funds have been taken from elsewhere in the council’s budget to pay for the alleged road widening.

He said: “Frack Free Ryedale calls for a full public inquiry into this and a moratorium on approving any further planning applications relating to conventional or unconventional gas production in the country.”

Russell Scott, of Frack Free North Yorkshire, said: “We will certainly be urging North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council and Third Energy to be more transparent about their intended plans.”

The calls for a public meeting were echoed by Butterwick resident Philip Tate. He has written to the leader of Ryedale District Council, Councillor Linda Cowling, suggesting a forum.

He said: “I have read the extremely useful, recently-posted information on the council website, but I think the council should go much further and engage local people by providing at least one public forum at which anxieties could be ventilated. If fracking goes ahead on the scale envisaged, it will not be invisible and will make a significant difference to our landscape. We need a public debate.”

Third Energy Ltd, which has drilling permission across Ryedale, has investment from Barclay’s Natural Resource Investments, a private equity firm of Barclay’s bank.

The company took shale rock samples for testing while drilling in the area last summer and have been analysing the data since. A spokesman said the firm knew nothing about any road widenings, but did not deny the possibility of fracking in the future.

The spokesman said: “As previously stated, we have collected vast amounts of data from the well and are currently evaluating the information. We cannot add anything further at this stage.”

Richard Marr, the county council’s highways and transportation area manager for Ryedale and Scarborough district, said that the only planned works to widen roads in Kirby Misperton was the A169 to accommodate an increase in traffic the waste transfer station will generate.

He said: “I am not aware of any road widening in the Kirby Misperton area connected with gas drilling. However, our waste disposal people are looking to widen the A169 outside my offices here at Kirby Misperton to accommodate the increased traffic the waste transfer station will generate.

“As the waste transfer station is a county council operation, then the county council will be funding it.”

The application to build the waste transfer station and make road improvements was on the agenda at Ryedale District Council’s planning committee earlier this year and was recently granted approval.

Mr Marr estimated that the cost of the project would be known in about a month’s time and that work would start towards the end of the year.

Ryedale council leader Councillor Cowling said her first reaction when she heard that there was a possibility of fracking in Ryedale was that there should be a public debate or meeting.

“If we were the planning authority who would be making the decision I would be pushing for that,” she said.

“Many people have already taken very entrenched views on fracking, but there are experts out there who are willing to give an unbiased view, and I believe we should be talking to them. Gathering some facts – not listening to horror stories, but , by the same token – how do we find out if those stories are true?

“However, the planning applications, when they come forward, will be decided by the the county council and I do not want to muddy the water.”

Email gazette@gazetteherald.co.uk to tell us what you think about fracking or write to the Editor, 84-86 Walmgate, York, Y012 9YN