RESIDENTS living near some of the North’s most pristine landscapes face an uncertain future after a government inspector expressed doubts about a plan to bar fracking within 500m of their homes.

Anti-fracking campaigners appeared dismayed as planning inspector Elizabeth Ord said there appeared to be no justification behind the buffer zone North Yorkshire County Council was attempting to impose around homes.

However, Ms Ord had earlier appeared to dismiss requests by energy firms to reject the creation of a buffer zone surrounding the North York Moors and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Numerous security guards had been posted both inside and outside of County Hall, in Northallerton, alongside police, after concerns protestors would attempt to disrupt a three-week hearing examining North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council and North York Moors National Park Authority’s Minerals and Waste Joint Plan.

However, as energy firms, residents and pressure groups sought to influence the plan - which has been four years in the making and will serve as a template for future planning decisions - the battle was limited to passionate debate.

Scott Lyness, counsel for the planning authorities, said the plan to only allow fracking within these buffer zones in exceptional circumstances was an attempt to strike a compromise between the ambitions of energy firms and the rights of residents.

The hearing was told a 3.5km limit around the national park and AONBs had been set in the plan to decrease the landscape impact of fracking rigs, and allowed 1km per 10m of height of the average rig.

But when asked by Ms Ord what the reason behind the planned 500m buffer zone from homes, Mr Lyness said it was to provide reassurance for residents and guidance for energy firms.

Nathalie Lieven QC, for the energy firms, said the buffer zone limits were “completely arbitrary” and would place “unjustified constraints on the development of shale gas in those areas”. She said: “It acts, effectively, to wholly undermine national support for developing shale gas. It should be done on a case by case basis as with any other development.”

Numerous anti-fracking campaigners voiced anger saying the rigs would create “an industrial landscape”, as Ms Lieven called for the buffer zones to be removed from the plan.

Councillor Lindsay Burr, for Ryedale District Council, said: “Residents’ welfare is paramount. National support for the development of shale gas is there, but surely not to the detriment of local residents.”

Ms Ord said despite repeatedly asking for a justification, she had heard no reason for imposing the 500m homes’ buffer zone policy and why there could not be greater flexibility in the plan.

She then pressed Alan Linn, chief operating officer of Third Energy, about the effects of a fracking site near residential properties, he insisted residents would not be significantly affected by the activities.

The hearing to determine whether the local plan complies with government policy is set to conclude next week and it is understood Ms Ord’s findings will be published in late spring.