NEARLY two years of demonstrations, discussion and debate will come to a head on Monday when the decision will finally be taken on whether to approve fracking at Kirby Misperton.

Thousands of protestors are expected to gather at County Hall in Northallerton on Friday, when the two-day meeting gets underway. Fashion designer and environmental protestor Dame Vivienne Westwood is to be among those addressing the crowds.

Yesterday (Tuesday), councillors on North Yorkshire County Council's (NYCC) planning and regulatory functions committee went on a site visit to the pre-existing well at Kirby Misperton, known as KM8, where gas company Third Energy intend to "hydraulically fracture" deep shale rock to stimulate gas flow. The councillors will use this site visit to inform their decision.

Last Thursday, the county council announced that its planning officers had recommended that the committee approve the plans.

Upon that announcement, Rasik Valand, chief executive of Third Energy said: "We have addressed the wide range of questions, concerns and comments raised by NYCC, statutory consultees and others.

"This work is reflected in the planning officer’s report together with the planning conditions proposed."

If approved, Third Energy will have permission to test for shale gas at the site and ultimately produce gas from the site.

Mr Valand added that Third Energy has been drilling wells and producing gas from this site in Kirby Misperton for over 20 years.

At the meeting, councillors will have five minutes each to speak, with registered members of the public - of whom there are said to be about 70 - each getting three minutes.

The first speaker will be county and district councillor Lindsay Burr MBE, who represents the Malton ward. She raised a concern about the lack of Ryedale-based councillors on the committee.

She said: "They always take an open view, but I'm concerned. We know our area."

As part of her speech, she will outline her reasons for wanting the committee to refuse fracking permission, including concerns in the areas of light and noise pollution, vehicle movement and visual impact on rural Ryedale.

She added: "The application in front of us is to test frack, however if commercially viable fracking will commence a precedent will have been set, welcoming fracking in to Ryedale."

This week has seen the beginnings of other fracking discussions. Energy company INEOS held a meeting last Wednesday with local councillors from town and parish councils across Ryedale. The meeting, which included presentations and a question and answer session, was held in Malton.

Thomas Pickering, of INEOS, said that the meeting was designed for INEOS Shale, the shale gas development arm of INEOS, to introduce the company to town and parish councillors.

Nearly 50 protestors from Frack-Free groups in the county, holding banners and signs, picketed outside the meeting.