Lancashire – the state of play

Day 18 of the appeal by fracking company Cuadrilla, against Lancashire County Council’s rejection [1] of planning applications for two sites; Roseacre and Little Plumpton (Preston New Road). The appeal being held at the Blackpool Football Club will today hear the closing arguments by those fighting to keep Lancashire frack-free and next week, closing arguments from the fracking company, Cuadrilla. The Inspector hearing the appeal will then send her observations to Westminster where Kent MP and Secretary of State, Greg Clarke, will make the decision for the people of Lancashire. [2]

Lancashire the Epicentre

Campaigners fighting fracking say they are now also fighting for local democracy and a voice in the proceedings. Throughout this appeal that can be overturned by central government, it has become obvious that Lancashire is the epicentre and will be the key deciding point. What happens in Lancashire will set a precedent for everywhere else in England.

Cuadrilla’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven, said the company would be making an application for costs [3] which could lead to a hefty bill for one of the UK’s most cash-strapped councils, currently experiencing harsh cuts. [4] Cuadrilla’s threat serves to warn other councils that might dare to say no to fracking plans, that there could well be a huge price to pay for reflecting the will of your electorate.

Residents including many of the Nanas gave testimonies at the appeal. #Nanashire

Residents including many of the Nanas #Nanashire gave testimonies at the appeal.

If democracy is genuine, the will of the people will be honoured and there will be no fracking in Lancashire. Then the rest of the country could use the same arguments to object to local planning applications and win. However, if the government or the appeal itself decides on overturning the council’s rejection of Cuadrilla’s planning applications, we will enter uncharted territory.

For fracking companies, this decision could mean the difference between an easy ride through planning process, or bankruptcy and being run out of town.

For communities opposed to fracking, this decision will mean even more. Completing this final leg in the ‘democratic process’ will leave the public with no other lawful means to demonstrate their opposition. If proceedings go against them, residents are not prepared to accept the industrialisation of swathes of the countryside nor the risks to public health, local homes and businesses, and to the environment. Campaigners warn that this outcome would lead to more and more people taking non-violent direct action to protect their communities as an act of ‘self-defence’.

The decision is expected over the coming weeks but no set date has been announced.

Highlights from the appeal

There have been plenty of ugly revelations over the past five weeks of the appeal but the high points outshone them.

13-year-old Morgan Marshall delivered an impassioned testimony at the appeal.

13-year-old Morgan Marshall silenced the room when he spoke of his deep concerns for his family and community. [5] The child’s honest, poignant testimony visibly shamed the grown-ups at Cuadrilla who did not know where to look.

10-year-old Jushua Mae shared a letter he had written to the Prime Minister and was forwarding to the Queen, “Because she is a mum and will help protect her children”.

Yesterday, 70 residents of Lancashire gave evidence of why they are opposed to fracking; referencing peer-reviewed studies, personal experiences with Cuadrilla and details of the impacts so far on house prices, health and livelihoods. This led to Inquiry Inspector Wendy McKay losing her patience.  The Inspector has been quiet, calm and most sensible throughout but yesterday presented unique challenges for her. She was clearly troubled by the passion, solidarity and kindness in the room that led to applause, laughter and floods of genuine human reactions, which she evidently felt were inappropriate and delayed proceedings.

At the appeal, local resident and Nana, [6] Julie Daniels said, “The Inspector chastised us like naughty school-children and added that if we didn’t agree, we would be asked to leave. It was very uncomfortable. For us, this stale and clinical process is unfamiliar and it’s hard to stop reacting like yourself when the vast majority in the room are on the same side and are experiencing a genuine emotional connection to what we’re seeing before our own eyes.”

Demonstrators lock themselves together during a protest outside a drill site run by Cuadrilla Resources, near Balcombe in Sussex (Aug 2013)

The People vs Fracking

The most striking thing about this appeal has been the passionate testimonies from the people of Lancashire; taken from their comfort zones into the formal setting of the appeal.  Residents’ groups from the two impacted areas have had to raise huge amounts of funding and dedicate countless hours in order to pull their cases together. The emotional stress can be seen on the faces of those who come every day but these residents remain poised and proud to defend their communities.

Julie Daniels said, “The government has, through it’s unpleasant desire for fracking, exposed a lot of its ugly side and seeing its influence on our futures, is infuriating.  They seem to forget that this is about our families and our lives; the risks are to air and water for goodness sakes! Of course we’re passionate. This process has been a real eye-opener for our community but there is no denying that the factual evidence we’ve submitted through our legal teams has clearly come out on top. If the decision goes against us, I dread to think what happens next.”

Many are asking how the decision could possibly go against the campaigners after so much evidence and expert support. The submission to the appeal by Professor David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow, is enough to set alarm bells ringing on its merits alone.  In his comments addressed to the Inspector, Professor Smyth criticised Cuadrilla’s response to the Inspector’s questions about the location of geological faults in the area that could potentially trigger earthquakes, calling it “inadequate and misleading”.  The professor summarised the evidence he had previously submitted before Lancashire County Council up to its decisions of June 2015, which he said, “was not given due weight.” [7] He also presented new evidence which he said, “has only subsequently come to light since that date as a result of FOI [Freedom of Information] requests.”

Professor Smythe summarised the following as “principal concerns”:

1. The precise locations of major faults near to the proposed sites are uncertain and the subject of debate. Some interpretations are based on obsolete data, and some data that would have been pertinent have apparently been lost.

2. The Appellant’s 3D seismic survey is inadequate for the accurate location of faults. The data have not been released to allow independent interpretation.

3. Although not yet backed by UK regulation, Professor Peter Styles, working with Cuadrilla and advising the UK PM’s Office, suggests a stand-off (safety) distance from frack to fault of 850 m to 5000 m. Even 850 m would rule out the two proposed sites.

4. The submissions made by myself to LCC prior to its decisions were not given the proper attention they deserved, due to prejudicial and unfounded comments made against my character. [8]

There may be trouble ahead..

In an undemocratic move, the Government has empowered Greg Clark MP to make the final decision.

Is it any wonder, that residents are dedicating so much time, money and energy to stopping this industry? The growth of the UK anti-fracking movement since the early signs of its existence around 2011 has been phenomenal by anybody’s standards; from a handful of groups then to over 400 today. [9] If Greg Clarke does overturn Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject Cuadrilla’s planning applications, it will be a clear sign that democracy is dead and many more people will be up in arms. With local people resisting and the Government persevering with plans to frack regardless, [10] it’s difficult to see where anti-fracking campaigners will go from here once the democratic process is exhausted. The British public have kept fracking at bay for more than four years so there’s no doubt that they will keep fighting regardless of which way Greg Clarke swings.

Of course, local democracy could win the day again, and campaigners and residents would finally be relieved of this colossal threat to their communities. But if fracking is given the green light, the UK could face more demonstrations and public disorder on a scale unseen since the Poll Tax protests.

Talk Fracking
#DontFrackLancs #DontFrackDemocracy

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