A POLITICAL row is raging over claims Hilbre Island could be at risk from engineering works associated with coal “gasification” off the Wirral coast.

Fears were raised after the awarding of a licence for Underground Coal Gasification operations in the Dee Estuary.

The UCG process involves igniting underground coal reserves in order to generate gas for energy use.

The permit covers 6,900 hectares of the estuary and could involve building a UCG plant off the West Kirby coast – prompting fears that damage could be caused to the environment.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for West Wirral, called a public meeting on the issue in West Kirby over the weekend, attended by more than 100 people.

She said: “It is important local people are made aware of the risks involved in UCG.

“Members of the public we have spoken with were very concerned indeed.

“The Labour Party has formed an action group to find out more about the engineering process and a series of questions from the meeting will be followed up.”

But Cllr Jeff Green, chairman of the Hilbre Island nature reserve management committee, dismissed the controversy as a “scaremongering campaign.”

He offered assurance to people who he said had "been alarmed" by it.

Councillor Green, leader of Wirral Council Tory group, said Hilbre Islands are within the Dee Estuary Special Area of Conservation and Dee Estuary Special Protection Area - a network of protected sites stretching across Europe.

“They are therefore covered by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations which also covers the Dee Estuary,” he said.

“They are also protected through national legislation under Countryside and Rights of Way Act as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“It’s a bit rich for the Labour Party to feign concern for the West Wirral coastline now.

“I’m sure many will remember their ill-conceived support for ‘The Sail Project’ (a West Kirby seafront hotel scheme rejected following fierce local opposition)”.

Mrs Greenwood said the public meeting had gone “extremely well” with an attendance of more than 100.

She said: “A lot of local people want to know more about the UCG process and how they can get involved in the decision making.

“We have said we are very happy for anyone to come along to a further meeting, which will be organised within the next week or so.”