“I’m going to frack here! I’m going to frack there! I’m going to frack every-fracking-where!” – Mr Frackhead
It has been a fraught five days in Lancashire. On Tuesday 23rd of June decisions amongst fifteen members of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee began on Cuadrilla’s applications to drill and hydraulically fracture (frack) four wells at Roseacre and Little Plumpton on Preston New Road. Beforehand Mr Perigo (the Senior Planning Officer for LCC) had suggested Roseacre be refused and Little Plumpton should go ahead.
On the Tuesday I was part of a crowd of protestors who gathered outside Preston’s County Hall. Preston New Road Action Group, Roseacre Awareness Group, Frack Free Lancashire and Friends of the Earth came together with numerous other anti-fracking and environmental groups and local individuals to stand against Cuadrilla’s application.
I had to leave on Tuesday afternoon because I had taken temporary admin work that demanded I stay away at an international conference in Liverpool. Throughout my time there, feeling torn and far from home, the fate of the sites and the efforts of the protestors were in my prayers.
Tuesday and Wednesday were allocated to the decision on Little Plumpton. On Wednesday legal advice was given to the councillors by Mr. Manley (a QC) suggesting they had no legal reasons for rejecting the proposal. The councillors voted 7-7. Councillor Green abstained. Councillor Dad (the Chair) made the casting vote in favour.
In response to this, Councillor Hayhurst said that as the public would be dismayed by the result he wanted the legal advice which had forced the vote and tied their hands made known. He also asked for extra time so that local residents could receive their own legal advice. The council agreed to reconvene on this decision on Monday.
On Thursday the councillors voted against fracking at Roseacre 15-0.
After returning on Friday evening, I caught up with this news (which I’d heard by text message) and read the document containing the legal advice. This said rejecting the proposal on grounds of ‘landscape / visual and amenity impact’ was ‘unreasonable’ but not ‘unlawful’. ‘It is highly likely the applicant will appeal’ and ‘there is a high risk that a costs penalty will be imposed upon the council.’ This gave me some insight into how the vote had been forced and the pressure the councillors were under.
I attended the rally yesterday, which was extremely tense. After speeches from Friends of the Earth, Lancaster Council, Trade Unions and other groups we waited around loud speakers as the proceedings were broadcast outside.
I heard Councillor Green explain why he abstained. He said that on Wednesday the legal advice given vocally was that it was ‘illegal’ to reject the proposal rather than ‘unreasonable’. He argued that although Cuadrilla had agreed to reduce the visual impact from high to moderate this was still sufficient ground to turn the proposal down. Green said after considering the evidence and additional legal advice he had decided to vote against it.
Other councillors (I didn’t catch their names) spoke for and against during the debate. One pro-fracking councillor warned that those who rejected the proposal would have to give evidence at a future appeal. Another countered by saying that after they had been threatened on Wednesday they would not be threatened again. He also questioned who would provide the pubic liability insurance after Cuadrilla had left and the site started leaking, suggesting the people of Lancashire would end up paying for the damage.
Following this a vote was made on Little Plumpton. 9 voted against fracking, 4 for, and 2 abstained. Following the horrendous and unfair pressure the councillors had been put under this was a huge victory for democracy. The majority of LCC refused to be bullied and stood by their land and their people.
That fracking has been stopped in Lancashire (for now) brings hope it can be stopped in other counties, throughout the UK and across the world.