A MEETING of the county council has been cancelled this morning after a stand-off involving anti-fracking demonstrators.

The scene unfolded at a meeting of the county council's Ryedale Area Committee which was being held at Ryedale Community Leisure Centre in Norton at 10.30am.

Barely two minutes into proceedings, a group of anti-fracking demonstrators dubbed the 'Suffragettes' stood and requested that they be allowed to ask a question.

The chair of the meeting, Cllr Caroline Goodrick, refused, saying that there had been a deadline for public questions.

With the demonstrators demanding an answer, the chair shortly after declared the meeting adjourned, and councillors retreated to a room at the back of the hall.

After around twenty minutes of discussions of how to proceed - which included two other public question askers offering to give their 'slot' to the demonstrators - Cllr Goodrick suspended the meeting.

The demonstrators then occupied the council tables.

Sue Gough, one of the Suffragettes group, said their question was about monitoring of air and water quality at the site.

"Our question was refused because it arrived a little bit late, but in our opinion this issue is too important to be refused," she said.

"It is an emergency.

"We are due to have fracking happen at KMA any time now, and I feel strongly that the council has been incredibly stubborn in not allowing some flexibility in their procedures.

"We've fought this for three-and-a-bit years now and we shall continue to fight."

Michelle Easton, another protestor, added: "It's important to note that we said we'd sit silently until the very end and that two other members of the public who had time for questions scheduled on the agenda had offered to give up their time.

"That's a huge show of support from them.

"But that offer was completely refused, there was no flexibility around that at all."

Cllr Caroline Goodrick, the chair of the meeting, said: "This meeting was open to the public, there was a great deal on the agenda.

"The question from protestors who are here this morning came in too late for inclusion on the agenda - and I'd already turned down three other questions which had come in, which were just equally as important.

"We have a protocol, and we need to run by that otherwise it becomes a free-for-all. So I refused their question in fairness to the other three questions.

"It's about being even-handed.

"I'm very disappointed for all the people who came with questions who I've had to send away.

"I respect their right to protest but don't protest over everybody else."

Opinion among councillors was divided, with some saying that hearing the protestors would be unfair on their constituents who had had question refused due to the deadline, and others saying that a degree of flexibility be shown.

Cllr Lindsay Burr said discretion could have been used to allow the protesters their question: "Our meeting's been disrupted this morning, but I think there's an easy solution.

"I just think it got all out of proportion and needn't have done. It's a shame because there's a lot of other business to do."

Other business, which now has been delayed, included a petition to change the road layout on Church St in Norton, a question about the long-awaited HGV ban at the level-crossing, and a discussion about work on the Hopgrove roundabout.

It is now hoped that the meeting can be re-arranged for another time.