A FRESH row has erupted over plans for fracking in Test Valley after claims communities are being “bribed”.

Households in the district could be given up to £20,000 if they are affected by the controversial practice of shale gas extraction.

But that has led to claims from critics in the area that residents are being “blackmailed”.

Prime Minister Theresa May says a £1 billion shale wealth fund set aside up to 10 per cent of the tax proceeds from fracking to benefit the communities which could host shale gas wells, including those in Stockbridge and North Baddesley.

But now she is amending the scheme so the money can go direct to residents rather than being given to councils or community trusts to spend, as planned by former Chancellor George Osborne.

It is expected that the new fund could deliver as much as £10 million to each community where wells are sited.

Downing Street declined to estimate how much payouts could be worth, but it is thought that individual households could be given up to £20,000.

It could mean that families in those two areas could pocket thousands of pounds if they are affected.

Gas companies have already been granted eight licences for fracking in south Hampshire.

According to environmental campaign group Greenpeace the areas affected include land between North Baddesley and Fairthorne, near Botley, King’s Worthy and Stockbridge, and Chilton and Amport as well as sites in the New Forest.

Romsey Advertiser: Caroline Nokes

Caroline Nokes MP for Romsey said: “I understand the concerns people have surround fracking – the hydraulic fracturing of rock to recover gas – however, I have long said the UK needs a suite of energy alternatives.

“The UK has a very strong regulatory regime in place to ensure that any exploration for fracking is done safely and I am pleased that the prime minister is discussing possible ways forward to ensure homeowners are not financially disadvantaged.”

But Test Valley environmental campaigner Andy Lester from North Baddesley said “any financial incentive is akin to blackmail”.

Romsey Advertiser: Conservationist Andy Lester is outraged that land at Wren's Corner, Cupernham Lane, Romsey, has been cleared by developers leading to loss of habitat for nightingales                    Wednesday 1st April 2015 (55666935)

He added: “It’s a way of silencing the critics. Money does talk, there will be many people when money is offered who would say ‘that’s great, that’s money I wouldn’t otherwise have.’”

He said that many people would feel that because the licence has been agreed people would think it would be safe to have fracking in their communities.

“A lot more research would need to be done before we can categorically say it’s safe technology,” he said.

He argued that the offset of energy bills from this source of energy would be “very low indeed” because of the investment costs and said that renewable energy should receive more investment from the government.

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East and a member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, blasted the proposals saying they were “immoral”.

He said it was “astounding” that the Prime Minister had put forward “this wrong-headed policy”.

He added: “The scientific consensus on climate change has never been greater and we have been told that the best chance of limiting potentially catastrophic temperature increase is by leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Climate change doesn’t accept bribes.

“The UK has enormous renewable energy potential – and we have seen evidence that people across the South East have the passion, willingness, and know-how to create clean, people-powered energy in spite of the Government’s continued onslaught.

“The British public will not be swayed by a naked attempt at using bribery to divide and conquer communities. It is time for the Government to stop circumventing democracy and, finally, listen to the public.”

It is unlikely that all the sites would be fracked – even if drilling went ahead – because many have the potential to generate conventional gas instead.

Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East said the cash would “sweeten the pill”.

He said: “Those power resources are so significant that it’s inevitable that they will be exploited. The important thing is to make sure that they’re not exploited in the areas of sensitivity in environmental and geographical concerns.”

Speaking ahead of the launch of a consultation on the Fund, Mrs May said she wanted to make sure that individuals benefit personally from economic decisions.

She said: “This announcement is an example of putting those principles into action. It’s about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken - not just councils - and putting them back in control over their lives.”