NEW Government plans would make exploratory drilling for gas equivalent in planning law to putting up a garden shed, according to Malton campaigners.

The government is seeking to gather views on whether to grant automatic planning permission for exploratory gas developments under the “permitted development” right.

It allows people to carry out improvements to their property such as a small conservatory or shed without having to apply to their local council for planning permission.

But campaigners fear it could be simply a way for fracking applications to bypass local planning authorities.

Outside Malton library on Saturday, residents symbolically taped up their mouths to demonstrate their view that the plans are “undemocratic and silencing local communities”.

Josie Downs, a member of Frack Free Malton and Norton, said: “This latest Government proposal is a shocking assault on localism and democracy. Local communities who will be directly affected should undoubtedly have a say on whether exploratory drilling takes place in their area.”

Ryedale is currently the site of significant amounts of exploratory activity.

Malton resident Jean Jowitt added: “Granting permitted development rights to exploratory drilling is a ‘Trojan Horse’ to get fracking well pads into our countryside.

"They will be allowed under the guise of being ‘temporary’ but as time goes by, many of them will become production sites.”

But Lorraine Allanson of Friends of Ryedale Gas Exploration (FORGE) said: “Permitted development does not mean gas companies can just rack up into any field and drill a gas well to be hydraulically fractured anywhere they choose.

“Neither is it as easy as putting up a garden shed under permitted development rules as the opponents like to claim.

“This is about core sampling wells becoming part of permitted development, just as water monitoring boreholes are already. Unlike a garden shed, the core sampling well still has to be scrutinised by the local planning officer and would still require local community engagement.

“Very importantly, before they can drill the well they will still require environmental permits from the Environment Agency, well integrity pre-drilling approval by the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority.”