Nearly 50 people gave evidence today against Cuadrilla’s proposal to frack at Preston New Road in the Fylde area of Lancashire.
They were speaking on the opening day of a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s development control committee which will decide whether the planning application should be approved.
A report by planning officers has recommended that the proposal to drill, frack and test up to four wells over six years should get the go-ahead.
But the opponents urged the committee to protect the environment and the health and lifestyle of local people by rejecting the application.
Their reasons covered fears about pollution, traffic, noise, threats to local tourism and farming, risks to health and industrialisation of the landscape. They also said there was no proven need for the application and that it contravened planning policy.
Here are some of the arguments they put forward.
Health risks to asthmatic sons
Sue Marshall fought back tears as she described how the effects of thunderstorms or smoke often put her two young asthmatic children in hospital. She said she could not risk their health with emissions from the proposed flare that would burn off gas during the proposed testing phase at Preston New Road. “Please don’t take risks with the air that we breathe. Please so no to this application”, she said.
“This is the closest thing that I can think of that is akin to a rape”
Businessman Mark Mills described how Cuadrilla’s contractors “invaded” his garden to carry out seismic testing in 2012. He said he repeatedly told them they could not enter his property but his instructions were ignored and he had to sue the company for trespass. When explosions were set off nearby, without warning, he said “clear damage was done to my property, which was literally lifted off the ground”.
“I am still fighting them for the damage to my home”, he said.
If permission were granted he said he would sell his businesses and his properties and leave Lancashire.
“I don’t trust Cuadrilla. If you’ve got a battle with them it will last years. This isn’t a seduction. This is the closest thing that I can think of that is akin to a rape.”
Increased traffic would trap the elderly
Graham Daniels lives on the lorry route to the proposed site at Carr Brook residential park. This is home to 300 people aged over 60, many with illness and disability. He said the increased traffic on the road outside the park would mean some residents would be unable to leave the park.
“Crossing the road to the bus stop will become even more difficult. Many people will be stopped from going on the bus and be trapped in their homes or they will have to pay a lot of money for a taxi to get off the park.”
Fracking would destroy our business
John Tootill runs a nursery 800m from the proposed site. “The biggest threat to our existence is the proposal to drill and frack in our locality, including under our home”, he said.
“This application, if allowed to proceed, will, without doubt, destroy our business and way of life, along with four fulltime jobs. Why? Because our environment would become too contaminated.”
He said the business catered for families who usually visited as part of a day out. “There is no way they would continue to visit us in an area where ill-health and painful life-shortening diseases would be triggered”.
How will fracking appeal to our visitors?
John McIlwham runs five star holiday villages locally, employing 500 people directly and attracting 1.5m visitors a year. He said the application would be a “blight on the landscape”.
“We fail to understand how fracking will benefit our beautiful local landscape? How would fracking appeal to our guests who are attracted to the area. How would fracking add to the tourism experience in the Fylde and Lancashire? How can fracking and tourism go hand in hand?”
If fracking got the go-ahead, he said his company would reconsider its policy of reinvesting profits in the regeneration of the local economy.
Would you come on holiday to a gas field?
Richard Marshall said the application demonstrated a lack of understanding of the Fylde landscape. He criticised the suggestion that the rig could be painted in camouflage paint to make it blend into the landscape. The Fylde was described as Lancashire’s coastal gem, he said. “Would you like to come on holiday to a gas field? I think not.”
Edward Cook, of Lytham, said if fracking went ahead, the Fylde would be closed to leisure pursuits. “It would not be a place to live, buy your food, have a home, invest your hard-earned cash or a place to come on holiday”, he said. He predicted there would be cycle accidents when large tankers serving the site used local roads.
M & S closely monitoring Fylde
Gail Hodson, a West Lancashire Borough councillor, said Marks and Spencer had told her it was not currently planning to stop sourcing food from the area. But it had said: “We are closely monitoring the situation”, she added.
“People are in tears today”, she said. “People feel they have not been heard. People have genuine fears about what this process might do to our county. When you justify your decision will you be able to put your hand on your heart and be able to stand by it?”
Bullying government interference would “embarrass a banana republic”
John Hodson, another member of West Lancashire Borough Council, said the elephant in the room was democracy. He described today’s meeting as “a sham event”. He said the possibility that the council could be liable for costs if it refused the application had resulted “in a planning process that was supposedly independent but in reality it is subject to a degree of interference from the centre that would embarrass a banana republic”.
He urged the committee to “represent the best interests of the people of Lancashire” and not what he described as the “narrow interests of a few industrialists”. To approve the application would be to follow an instruction of a bullying government, he said.
“To reject the application would send a clear message to the rest of the country that you cannot condemn Lancashire to an industrial experiment – one that is deemed to be unacceptable to other parts of the country, in leafy southern England.”
No social licence
Mike Ellwood, representing Blackburn and Lancaster catholic dioceses, said the applications failed to the meet the need for social justice and environmental stewardship.
“Opponents of the application have prepared their own case in their own time and at their own expense to protect the things they love”, he said. “They are interested in long-term sustainability and not short term plunder”.
He contrasted this with what he called Cuadrilla’s PR companies and lobbyists, which had prepared what he described as “mountains of data”.
“Cuadrilla talk about social licence. This is the community giving its informed consent. We remain unconvinced that this exists.”
Regulation not fit for purpose
Local businessman, Peter Watson, who lives near the proposed site, said the fracking industry had “no independent, fit for purpose” regulatory system. “If this application is approved our quality of life and health and property will all be disastrously affected”, he said. Many local businesses would be affected and some were too afraid of the bad publicity to speak out, he added.
Elizabeth Bullock, of Weeton Village, said: “We have been told it [Cuadrilla’s operation] will be best available technique but that is not the case. Best available technique would involve capturing all the methane and using it for power generation. …. That is not being applied here. It is simply a matter of cost. It is cheaper for Cuadrilla to flare. The people of the Fylde do not deserve to be used in Cuadrilla’s experiment. We will be the guinea pigs.”
Too close to homes
Linda Channing said the application would have been rejected in Australia where a buffer zone was required around sites. James Taylor, of Westby with Plumptons Parish Council agreed. He also said the access road was a renowned traffic blackspot.
Ken Hopwood, representing people living near the proposed site, said vibration from the proposed operations could lead to loss of sleep and tiredness. This needed to be investigated. He called for a recorded vote because the decision “will have an impact on so many residents of the borough”.
Frank Rugman, a local resident and contributor to a report by Medact on the health implications of fracking, said 4,500 people would live within two miles of the flares. He said benzene, a major carcinogen, was contained in shale gas and could be released by flaring.
Impact on wildlife
Sue Holiday said the fields around the proposed site were used by barn owls, bats, hares, lapwing and pink footed geese, some of which were protected species. The wintering bird survey had recorded 2,500 pink footed geese in a nearby field. “I am concerned this [fracking] would stop them coming to our area, changing the ecology of the Fylde. “ She said the ecological analysis of the application was flawed because it had been carried out only on land north of the A683.
Liz Green, who works with a local marine conservation charity, was concerned about the impact of any pollution on the wildlife of the Ribble estuary
James Marsh said the economic benefits of shale gas had been overstated and the application would have no impact on the economy or energy security. He doubted Cuadrilla’s estimate that the Fylde could produce a quarter of the UK’s gas needs. He said the 100 well pads and 4,000 wells the company planned for the area would, instead, produce about 7.5% of UK gas needs.
No demonstrable need
John Powney argued that people who lived outside the area had a right to object to the application. He said the country had enough conventional gas and did not need shale gas. Cuadrilla had not demonstrated that there was a proven need for its application, he said.
Sue Knight, a parish councillor in East Lancashire, quoted from a TUC document which said 1m so called climate jobs could be created in the solar, wind and tidal energy industries.
Chris Holiday said the noise limits could not be met by the conditions recommended by the planning officers. He also said the conditions could not be enforced.
Barbara Richardson, of Roseacre Awareness Group, said councillors must be sure that they understood all the 40+ conditions that had been recommended and that they were written clearly and could be enforced.
Tom Young, of Ribble Estuary against Fracking, said the Fylde could expect 2,100 abandoned wells after 10 years of fracking and 8,725 abandoned wells after 20 years. In each subsequent year 660 abandoned wells would be added and another 660 new wells drilled every year. “All these wells require regular and extensive monitoring”, he said.
Karen Litchfield, who lives near Cuadrilla’s Grange Road site at Singleton, urged the council to be consistent in its decisions. In February 2015, the committee refused permission for Cuadrilla’s plans for seismic monitoring and pressure testing at the Singleton well.
“This proposal [Preston New Road] is much larger than what was proposed at Grange Road”, she said. “You have to consider and ask yourselves how safe is an industrial development where over 40 conditions are needed to control its operations?”
Lack of information
Claire Stephenson told the committee she was, until last month, a governor at Weeton St Michaels Primary School, which is about a mile from the proposed site. She complained that parents had not been given information by the school, which had said it (and the governing body) must remain neutral. This lack of information, particularly on air pollution, would make a compelling case for a judicial review, she said. She added that she was withdrawing her children from the school at the end of July.
Impact on house prices
Richard Sutcliffe described how a house 800 metres from the site was valued at £750,000 in 2012 but only £190,000 in 2014 because of the fracking proposals. The sale of another property four miles away had fallen through because of the application, he said.
Noreen Griffiths said the suggestion by Lancashire Director of Health that people living nearby could be offered blackout blinds was an admission that light pollution would be a problem. She said the night glow seen from the Fylde was already equivalent to that of Birmingham or London and was harmful to wildlife. Blackbirds were dying from exhaustion because of lack of sleep. “Do you think that is acceptable”, she asked the committee.
Councillors will vote on the decision tomorrow (Wednesday 24th June 2015)