MORE than 180 companies have formed a coalition to campaign against fracking in a tourism-dependent area they fear will become the national centre for the controversial gas production method.

The Frack Free Business Group, based in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, includes many firms who rely on the visitor economy for their income, ranging from pubs and art galleries to caravan parks, gift shops and tour companies.

Other businesses that have joined the group include farmers, high street retailers, vets and wine merchants.

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The move follows government-commissioned environmental surveys for oil and gas licences revealing last month that most of the district would be within a "10km potential zone of impact" of a fracking site should proposed schemes go ahead.

It also comes after energy firm Third Energy submitted an application to North Yorkshire County Council to frack in the district at Kirby Misperton, in what it said could be the first fracking project to become operational in the UK since the Government banned the gas production method in 2011.

Third Energy says it is confident the scheme would be safe and has highlighted that it would apply to the Environment Agency for mining waste operation, radioactive substances and groundwater activity permits.

While the scheme has generated vociferous opposition from residents in Ryedale, David Cameron has blamed a "lack of understanding" about the fracking process for some of the opposition.

Darren Allanson, who co-owns the Patisserie in Malton and helped to set up the group, said the government report had set alarm bells ringing when it highlighted how shale gas could lead to pristine and quiet areas becoming industrialised.

He said rural economy businesses reliant on clean air, land, water and a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change.

Mr Allanson said: "Once I started looking into fracking, it became apparent to me that Ryedale simply could not accommodate such an industry, given how many businesses rely on the tourism sector.

"Even if we just look at the huge increase in traffic if Ryedale became the centre of the UK fracking industry, how would that affect our road network?"

Fellow founder member Paul O'Hanlon, manager of the Black Swan Hotel, in Helmsley, said firms were also deeply concerned about the effect fracking would have on the countryside, and questioned whether people would still want to visit Ryedale.

Anne Barnes, who runs a bakery in the town, said she was concerned about what the future held for her grandchildren from the effects of fracking on the environment.

For details about the group, email frackfreebusiness@gmail.com