CONSERVATIVE peer Lord Howell yesterday stood by his view that fracking should start in the North.

The former Energy Secretary sparked outrage in July by declaring in the House of Lords: “There are large and uninhabited and desolate areas – certainly in the North-East – where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence, where we could conduct these activities without any kind of threat to the environment.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, led the protests, describing the North-East as “very beautiful, rugged and welcoming … not desolate.”

Lord Howell later apologised for causing any offence and revised his comments, saying he had actually meant the North- West.

Lord Howell was in the North- East yesterday for a visit arranged by the North East Chamber of Commerce and fracking was one of a number of issues discussed during a private lunch with energy experts from the region.

After the lunch, Lord Howell claimed his House of Lords comments had been distorted, adding: “The North was at the heart of the industrial revolution so there are bound to be derelict coal mines and areas which need reclaiming and that’s where fracking should start.

“The North is the obvious place to start because it has those derelict sites.

“Not just that – it also an appetite to want to do it and the necessary skills.”

However, he added a more diplomatic tone by saying: “What’s most important is that we proceed cautiously and it is done within local planning guidelines and with the consent of local people.

“There was never any question that I didn’t appreciate the qualities of the North or its beautiful landscapes, nor am I saying that we should never consider fracking in the South.

“The North has much it can teach the South – it is entrepreneurial, dynamic, has a strong business culture and I fully recognise its beauty.”

Lord Howell called for greater clarity and direction on British energy policy.

“That needs to happen on innovation and new technologies in all fields to achieve modern, cheaper and more competitive power supplies.

“Other countries are overtaking us – especially the United States,” he said.