In this guest post, Tim Thornton reports from Tuesday’s extra-ordinary meeting of Ryedale District Council, organised to debate a motion calling for a ban on fracking. This was Tim Thornton’s first attendance at a council meeting. At the end of a long evening he felt that more needs to be done to protect the people and environment of Ryedale.
Fracking licences have been taken up covering nearly the whole of Ryedale. This fits with the Government’s overall plan to frack from Blackpool to Scarborough with a wide belt of industrialisation in the ‘desolate’ north of the country.
On Tuesday night, at a Council Meeting held in public, Ryedale District Council (RDC) received a 1000+ signature petition against fracking from residents of Ryedale. David Davis of ‘Frack Free Ryedale’ presented the petition. He pointed out that we should not consider only the one well in Ryedale proposed, but 100’s of drill pads across Ryedale each with as many as 50 wells. Each well requiring 100 days of drilling results in 5000 days, or 14 years, drilling for each gas ‘farm’. The impact from noise alone 24 hours a day would be intolerable let alone lorry movements, and other impacts on roads and the environment. He doubted Third Energy’s promise that ‘you would hardly notice we were there’. He noted the risk of a self regulated industry and warned of the health impacts and the legacy of redundant wells leaking methane and other gases into the atmosphere. He implored RDC to respect their duty of guardianship for the district and the residents.
RDC then went on to hold their Council meeting in public to discuss a motion, ‘Ryedale District Council completely opposes all Fracking in Ryedale’, proposed by Councillor John Clark. This was, perhaps, Ryedale’s bid to align with New York, New Brunswick, Scotland, Wales and countless cities and counties around the world. Those councils felt they would be allowed to ban fracking to protect their environment, water, agriculture and tourism and also the health of their residents.
Ryedale Council deliberated long and hard on the legality of a ban. The Council solicitor gave his opinion that an outright ban was rigid and might prejudice the ability to decide and vote on fracking issues in the future as it ‘fettered’ their processes. It was thus illegal and if accepted might result in compensation and individual councillors being fined. Those who supported the banning motion pointed out the many times the council had, in the past, felt able to have a policy without fettering being an issue. Those who supported the solicitor’s views defended the need to approach each planning application individually and without a pre-conceived view. To the public who are not familiar with the process of democracy, it seemed odd that the views of the individuals so closely reflected their party allegiances. Those troubled by fracking Ryedale were concerned that if left to the decision making body – North Yorkshire county Council, then it was passing responsibility to people from outside the district and their ‘experts’.
The examination of the solicitor’s report ground on into the late evening almost without mention of the questionable benefit to Ryedale of this industrialisation, the health risks and such issues as to ‘who mends the roads after the lorries have degraded them?’ Cllr John Clarke pointed out that around 200 councils had gone nuclear free in the 80’s and Ryedale had banned GM crops and there had been no concern of mention about fettering and neither councils or councillors gone to court or been fined. He suggested that the Localism Act allowed such motions to be made by council. Many councillors felt there had been sufficient evidence to recommend the precautionary principle – don’t do it unless you are sure it is safe. In the blue corner the view was that there was not enough information to make a decision against fracking and we should leave to NYCC and their hired experts. Friends of the Earth side with John Clark with regard to the Localism Act and it will be interesting to discover what their legal team make of it all.
After an age has passed, the main debate showed the Rift Valley between the two opinions. ‘Must be careful and moderate and lets see how we go’ against ‘Fracking is harmful, the science is emerging but looks bad so we should not experiment in Ryedale to see how it goes.’
Cllr Linda Cowling proposed an amendment ‘noting public concerns, and only supporting fracking if satisfied that all concerns about the risks had been accepted satisfactorily. Each application considered individually and the benefits should be weighed against the risks’ (See below)
This was supported in the proportion which we were now becoming familiar, while it was pointed out that it was lengthy, imprecise and allowed for much interpretation. Some were puzzled in their search for any possible benefit to Ryedale. Cllr John Andrews calculated that we were not looking at one well in Ryedale but more likely 100 well pads each with 50 wells each of 4 acres with associated infrastructure. Wells get leaky with age and dribble methane into the air. The risks to the aquifers remain significant and the recent experience of the Environment Agency with regard to the flooding was – do nowt.
Cllr Bailey was comfortable that his National Parks would be protected until it was pointed out the government had overturned the understanding of the Infrastructure Bill by changing the definitions of what is a park or a water source and retaining the need to frack in ‘special circumstances’. Cllr Woodward responded by asking if it was not safe to frack in the National Park, why was it safe in Ryedale close to people’s homes. Cllr Mrs Burr wondered why anyone could possibly support fracking, the public did not support it so why accept a loose motion that might allow it?
After the familiar vote, Cllr Richardson proposed a tighter motion to allow fracking only when 90% of peer reviewed science, 90% of climatology agreed fracking was safe and when it was shown that agriculture and tourism would not be at risk. He urged adoption of the precautionary principle. Don’t do it if you cannot say it is safe. Cllr Woodward suggested this was the opportunity for the Tories to protect the people, the economy and the health of Ryedale. For 11 Against 14 – again.
The Chair – among the 14 along with the Vice-Chair, then sped people along as it was getting towards bedtime so there was little time to debate. The Open Minds wanted to keep their options open while saying they would look for evidence. The Passionate wanted to prevent the frackers getting a toehold in the District with the poor regulation, self-monitoring and industry standards that have caused havoc around the world.
It was interesting to note the stated lack of information on fracking when 11 of the councillors were invited, but failed to attend the meeting a week earlier precisely to share information and views on fracking. It might be illumination to compare the list of attendees with the voting pattern the following week.
To an outsider it might seem a messy sport where allegiance to the party line was more important than personal beliefs. Questionable opinions from the legal side help or hinder the approach to the goal and if your team has more players it hardly matters what is said as the result will end up close to 14-11. Interestingly not one councillor spoke up for fracking. It could be something to do with the sea of signs that Frack Free Ryedale held up at each of their votes saying, ‘We wont vote for politicians who condone fracking’.
Whatever the process achieved it is clear that more needs to be done to protect the people, the environment, and the amenity of Ryedale as well as the economic drivers of tourism and agriculture. Could Do Better.
As the blood red wagons of Haliburton crowd the byways of the pretty villages of Hovingham, Terrington, Stonegrave and Nunnington, we will just be left to wonder how it all happened.
Is this all the protection we need? –
Proposed by Cllr Cowling and embraced by the 14.
“Daddy – what did you do in the fracking war?”