CBI accused of “faking Cuadrilla community engagement with Balcombe residents”

19th April 2014

Balcombe residents have accused the Confederation of British Industry of faking Cuadrilla’s record on community engagement with the village.

The CBI used the oil and gas exploration company as a case study on its website to illustrate the importance of building trust with local communities. The case study, on the media section of the website, included the sentence: “Cuadrilla take considerable care in dealing with the local communities in areas in which they operate”.

But Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association (FFBRA), in its latest newsletter published yesterday, said:

“It is hard to imagine a worst choice of company to use to illustrate building community trust.”

FFBRA is preparing a presentation against Cuadrilla’s latest planning application, which comes before West Sussex County Council’s planning committee on April 29th. The newsletter continued: “This is an important matter, as ‘lack of community engagement’ is grounds for WSCC to reject Cuadrilla’s application. Instead of risking genuine community engagement, Cuadrilla has decided to get the CBI to fake it for them.”

On April 16th, we reported that FFBRA’s vice-chair, Sue Taylor, complained to the CBI that the case study was “incorrect and misleading” and asked it to correct the statements referring to Balcombe. FFBRA said: “There has been no discussion between Cuadrilla and the local community prior to the submission of the planning application. This is contrary to the guidance for on-shore oil and gas issued by DCLG.”

The CBI replied that day, through its Corporate Communications Manager, Mark Hadley. He said “The case study is not solely about Cuadrilla’s work in Balcombe, rather more broadly across various UK sites.”

Mrs Taylor wrote back later that day:

“Dear Mark, I can only speak of the Balcombe experience of Cuadrilla as that is where I live – however from talking to people who live in Lancashire their experience has been exactly the same. I think you are risking the reputation of the CBI allowing such incorrect statements to be on your website. If you think it would be helpful I can get some of the residents who live near Cuadrilla’s other UK sites to write to you about their experience of Cuadrilla’s community engagement, you would then have complete picture and be able to judge the situation for yourself.”

Mr Hadley replied on April 17th:
“Dear Sue, I appreciate you taking the time to share your views. I’m sure you will understand that we aren’t able to deal with individual enquiries and that any specific concerns should be addressed to the company and the relevant bodies. I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help.”

Yesterday, Sue Taylor wrote again to Mark Hadley:

“Dear Mark, Please could you tell me who the relevant bodies are that I should contact. My understanding is the CBI is a non-profit organisation. Are you governed by the Advertising Standards Board?”

Another FFBRA member has also written to the CBI. The letter, from a Balcombe resident, described Cuadrilla as “one of the most unreliable companies I have had the misfortune to make enquiries to.”

It recounts a drop-in session with the company in 2013. “The engagement on the day was mainly from a PR company who had no answers and were ill informed. When I eventually talked with an employee from Cuadrilla and asked about how they would put things right if the worst happened I was horrified to be told that if it goes wrong there is NO putting it right – it would be forever damaged. He then crossed his fingers and said ‘Let’s hope the risk assessments are right and the risk is low!!’

The letter rebuts a point made in the CBI website that opposition to Cuadrilla at Balcome was mainly from outside the village. This is not true, the writer says. “If Cuadrilla had any real engagement with members of the community I live in they would know, but for the villagers’ support the camp would not have been able to stay. The people at the camp included many, many local residents and the residents and protectors engaged with us each day.”

The CBI case study said in 2011 alone “Cuadrilla took 140 local residents and representatives on site visits. The letter says: “Cuadrilla make empty promises – they said that they would take anyone from the village to the drill site but, when I asked, the HSE manager said NO, his reason ‘the risks are too high’ and ‘if we let you come onsite we’ll have to let others’.

It urges the CBI: “Please then allow discussion from both sides before printing the views of one side of a dispute. I ask that you withdraw the statement that states that Cuadrilla have engaged with the community THEY HAVE NOT.” asked Cuadrilla’s PR company to respond on April 16th to comments by FFBRA but has received no reply.

2 replies »

  1. A journalist can print any story they are told because it is news. That’s why newspapers like the Daily Sport could print stories about buses on the moon – because someone told them the story and that’s news so they could print it. Doesn’t make it true.

    To be a true investigative journalist you need to check the story out and see if it there is any truth in it or if it’s just someone looking for their 15 minutes of fame or if they have an agenda.

    • Hi
      Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to hear from you. I agree with the point you make about investigative journalism.
      In this case I had other supporting evidence for the story beyond the material from FFBRA. The response to an FOI request I made to West Sussex County Council showed that on 28th October last year, a WSCC planner asked Cuadrilla’s consultant whether the company was planning any community engagement for the planning application, to be voted on next week. He replied “unlikely”, followed by “best to do this early one [sic] and I think it may be counter productive now”. The source for this is then open CUADRILLA BALCOMBE APP 28 OCT 13_Redacted.pdf Please let me know if the links don’t work and I’ll email you the document.
      There is, of course, a debate about the definition of community engagement. I’ve been looking again at the UKOOG scheme which promises companies will provide “sufficient opportunity for comment and feedback on initial plans, listen to concerns and respond appropriately and promptly”. It’s not hard to find people in Balcombe who feel they have not had access to this quality of community engagement. However, I would be very interested to meet people who feel differently. I want to speak to people in the village who have a different view and if you can help with this I’d be very grateful.
      And just for the record, I did, of course, contact Cuadrilla before posting and I have not yet heard back. Usually it takes about a fortnight but when I hear back I always post the company’s response.

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