WOULD-BE parliamentarians faced off in the first of a series of hustings events aimed at helping Darlington voters to decide who they want as their next MP.

Dozens of people attended the environmental-themed debate, which was organised by the Darlington branch of Friends of the Earth, at the Friends Meeting House, in Skinnergate, on Wednesday (April 8) evening.

Five candidates were present for the debate –Alan Docherty of the Trade Unions and Socialist Coalition, Peter Cuthbertson (Conservative), Anne-Marie Curry (Liberal Democrat), Green candidate Mike Cherrington and Labour’s Jenny Chapman.

UKIP candidate David Hodgson did not attend.

Pre-approved questions on issues such as fracking, carbon emissions and plans to build homes on urban green spaces were put before each of the candidates, with each given two minutes to give their views on each issue before follow-up questions were invited from the floor.

Candidates were asked whether the controversial shale gas extraction method fracking has any benefit for the region.

Mr Cuthbertson spoke first on the issue, saying: “I’m rather a fan of shale gas extraction, which could be a massive opportunity for the North-East, it could be the opportunity of a lifetime for our manufacturing industry.

“There should be respect for where it happens, for any local concerns. My understanding is that you could be living next door and never know [fracking] was going on.”

Other candidates were less in favour of fracking, particularly Mr Docherty, Mr Cherrington and Ms Curry.

Mrs Chapman, who is hoping to be elected for a second term as Darlington’s MP, was less clear about her position on the issue.

She said: “I had a lot of emails about fracking when we had a vote on it in Parliament.

“It requires huge investment and the rush for fracking is slightly overstated.”

Mr Cherrington countered claims that fracking creates jobs by arguing that the practice could also lead to health problems for those employed.

He added: “I’ve got serious concerns around fracking and I think we should be looking at alternative energy sources and that means renewables.”

Ms Curry likened fracking to mining, saying she had ‘grave doubts’ about the process.

She said: “We are seeing sinkholes and other problems in areas where mining has occurred.

“We could be allowing our country to be ruined for the future [by fracking] and I am against it.”

Mr Docherty said he was ‘totally against’ fracking, adding: “If the Government has money to spare, it should be investing in renewable energy.”

More hustings events will be held in Darlington in the run-up to the election on May 7. Details of these debates will be in The Northern Echo on Friday (April 10).