The government announced yesterday that Blackpool would become a centre of excellence for the energy sector. At the same time, a campaigner from the town invited the Prime Minister to explain the need for a shale gas industry in the area.
James Wharton, the Northern Powerhouse minister, named Blackpool as a new Enterprise Zone. He said it would “light up the Northern Powerhouse” and “become a centre of excellence for the energy sector”. He said plans for the region included the previously announced Energy HQ, described as “a dedicated new training facility to be developed by Blackpool and Fylde College”.
The Fylde region, inland from Blackpool, is the focus of Cuadrilla’s attempts to explore for shale gas. Two planning applications to drill, frack and test up to eight shale gas wells were turned down in June by Lancashire County Council’s development control committee. Cuadrilla is now appealing against the decision and a public inquiry is scheduled to begin in February.
A press release from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said Blackpool Airport would be the focus of an Enterprise Zone.
This could attract up to 140 new businesses and 3,000 high-tech jobs, the department said. It aimed to develop a “highly-skilled workforce for the energy industry”, and was an opportunity to secure the airport’s long-term future.
The press release did not mention shale gas or hydraulic fracturing but the announcement was welcomed by the pro-shale organisation, the Onshore Energy Services Group.
“It’s very pleasing to see Blackpool Airport being established as an energy-focused Enterprise Zone. If Lancashire proceeds to develop its shale gas resources, there will be strong interest among supply chain SMEs wishing to relocate to or establish satellite operations in the area, bringing investment and jobs to a tow.”
A DCLG spokesperson said Mr Wharton wasn’t able to visit Blackpool to make the announcement. But one of the town’s residents made the reverse journey yesterday to deliver a message about fracking to 10 Downing Street.
The anti-shale campaigner, Gayzer Frackman, stood outside the famous black door and read a letter he’d written to the David Cameron. He said:
“This letter is to invite you to discuss with me the reasons why you want to make my home town of Blackpool the fracking capital of Europe.”
Mr Cameron was not in Downing Street at the time but Mr Frackman invited the Prime Minister to debate with him:
“I will be across from Downing Street until you take my invitation and explain to me, with evidence, why we need this industry.”
“You still have the opportunity to do right by Great Britain and take a cleaner route on energy.”
Mr Frackman said the shale gas industry had no social licence. “When people know the dangers of this method of unconventional gas extraction they are opposed to it and will do anything to stop it”, he said.