Last year I participated in the protests against fracking at Roseacre and Preston New Road (in Little Plumpton) outside Preston’s County Hall in June. On Thursday 25th June, Lancashire’s Development Control committee rejected the proposal for Roseacre 15-0.
After an incredibly fraught week during which decisions were delayed by a piece of legal advice designed to persuade the councillors rejecting the proposal on the grounds of ‘landscape, visual and amenity impact’ was ‘illegal’ rather than ‘unreasonable’ they voted against Little Plumpton 9-4 with 2 abstentions.
Local communities saw this as a massive victory not only against fracking but for democracy. We were heartened by the fact that, in spite of being put under tremendous pressure, Lancashire’s councillors had listened to their people and stood for their views.
Predictably Cuadrilla have appealed. On 27th November 2015 it was announced that, following the decisions of Lancashire’s councillors to refuse fracking, further decisions would be transferred to Westminster. The final call will be made by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Clark has stood for decentralisation and called on county councillors to ‘take the power back’. However The Telegraph recently published a leaked letter written on 7th July 2015 proposing classifying fracking sites as ‘nationally significant infrastructure’ and outlining objectives to ‘develop the shale gas sector’. The signatories were Liz Truss (Environment Secretary), Amber Rudd (Energy and Climate Change) and… Greg Clark. It is alarmingly clear where Clark’s priorities lie.
These issues provided the impetus for a public meeting: ‘Will Westminster force fracking on Lancashire?’ last night at St John’s Minster in Preston. This event brought national and local anti-fracking groups together with members of the public to hear a series of panellists and engage in debate.
The event was chaired by Rose Dickinson from Friends of the Earth. Barbara Richardson from the Roseacre Awareness Group spoke for the Fylde’s unspoilt scenery and important role in agriculture and tourism against preconceptions of ‘the desolate north’.
The speech of Pat Davies from Preston New Road Action Group drove home the massive amount of work ordinary people with no background in the area had put into researching fracking and legislation in order to put Cuadrilla’s plans into question.
Stephen Gared from the Environment Group for the Anglican and Catholic Diocese in the North West highlighted the importance of transparency and drew attention to misleading wording used by fracking corporations and called for ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’.
Stephen Holgate, Labour Councillor for Chorley West, raised the issue of predetermination in relation to the leaked letter and Clark’s cohesion with George Osborne’s plans to fast track fracking. He also spoke of the importance of protecting democracy and making sure councillors and politicians know if they do not listen to their people they will lose seats.
Tina Louise Rotherby of the Fracking Nannas told us about the numerous lies she had uncovered and the lack of reassurance about what will happen to waste left underground when the frackers are gone.
Asad Rahman, an international climate change campaigner for Friends of the Earth, highlighted how the UK government’s proposals to frack go against the agreement reached at Paris to reduce global warming to below 2°C which means 80% of fossil fuels must be left underground, and drew attention to the ongoing human cost of climate change.
Questions raised during the debate included whether, if local people’s opposition was ignored, a case could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Pam Davies said if that happened she intended to take her community’s case to a judicial review and to Europe if necessary. Other points addressed were the possibility of councils standing against central government and how to gain the support of local businesses.
The decision making process begins on Tuesday 9th February at Blackpool Football Stadium and will last around 20 days over 4 weeks. According to the draft programme in the first week Cuadrilla will state their case with support from consultancy firm Arup. In the second week the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce will support Cuadrilla then Lancashire County Council will defend its decisions.
On the third and fourth weeks Friends of the Earth, Roseacre, the Preston New Road groups and local parish councils will state their opposition followed by hearings from the members of the public. Inspector Wendy McKay will then report back to Greg Clark who will make the final decision.
Frack Free Lancashire are organising a national anti-fracking demonstration outside Blackpool Football Stadium beginning at 9am on Tuesday morning encouraging people across the UK to gather in solidarity.
Once again the final decision will be not only of national but global importance. The result will determine whether Greg Clark and Westminster are open to the views of local people and respectful of the decisions of county councillors or determined to force fracking on Lancashire at the expense of democracy.