Last week’s decision by a government minister to reopen the planning inquiry into one of Cuadrilla’s fracking sites in Lancashire has made local people more determined to fight it, a spokesperson for the community has told DrillOrDrop.
Barbara Richardson, who lives 550m from the proposed Roseacre Wood site, said people were very angry that the Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, had not accepted the recommendation of an independent inspector to refuse planning permission.
“What it’s done, it’s unleashed a dragon.
“We’ve got more and more people now saying ‘what can we do, how can we stop it?’ So we’ve got lots more determined people full of resolve to do what they can.”
Cuadrilla’s application for Roseacre Wood was opposed for road safety reasons by Lancashire County Council’s highways and planning officers. It was refused by the council’s Development Control committee in June 2015. And the inspector at a planning inquiry earlier this year recommended refusal because all other issues were “strongly outweighed by the harm that would result to highway safety”.
But last Thursday, Mr Javid said he was minded to approve the application to drill, frack and test up to four wells at Roseacre Wood if Cuadrilla could show it had addressed road safety issues. He also overturned Lancashire County Council’s refusal of permission for fracking at another site at Preston New Road.
Mrs Richardson, a spokesperson for Roseacre Awareness Group which has fought the application for two-and-a-half years, said:
“To me, the government just doesn’t care about even valid planning arguments.
“Everyone says there’s going to be significant road safety issues [at Roseacre Wood] but the government is going to push it through anyway.
“It just highlights how desperate they are to push this through. And because of that, I feel angry. I’m not the only one. People here are even more determined.”
She said local people felt they had been “totally disregarded”.
“No matter what we do it’s almost like they’re just going to railroad it through.”
Support from strangers
Roseacre Awareness Group was now determined to harness the anger, she said.
“People don’t want to roll over and die”.
“People who supported us but didn’t actually give the time before are now prepared to make more of an effort to stop it.
“We’ve been approached by strangers, basically. They said ‘how can we help you?’
Mrs Richardson said:
“We’ve had messages through the Lancashire Responds event [held last weekend] and through our websites.
“We’ve had more donations coming in without even having to ask – nothing huge but we’ve had offers of help. I’ve had a lady who runs a PR company who said can she be of any use to us.”
Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG) is now engaging consultants to help it oppose Cuadrilla at the reopened public inquiry.
The group said it spent tens of thousands of pounds on consultants at the original inquiry, which ran for five weeks in February and March. A team of about 12 people from villages neighbouring the site worked on the case, some of them full-time around the inquiry.
Lorry route “unsuitable and unsafe”
One of the key points in RAG’s argument was that the proposed route of heavy goods vehicles (pictured above) was unsafe. It went along narrow rural roads, which were also used by cyclists, walkers and horse riders.
The inspector’s report, released on Thursday, concluded there were “inherent physical deficiencies” in the route.
The inspector, Wendy McKay, said concerns about the safety of people using the route “have not been adequately addressed by the proposed mitigation” and she said the route was “unsuitable for its intended purpose”.
Ms McKay concluded:
“In the absence of satisfactory mitigation measures, I am unable to conclude that the use of the preferred route would represent a safe and sustainable approach. The proposed development would have a serious and very significant adverse impact on the safety of people using the public highway. The demonstrable harm that would result would not be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level.”
Mrs Richardson said the final decision on Roseacre Wood would have implications for other rural shale gas sites across the country.
“The Secretary of State knows if he dismisses this one that every single country location that’s not near a main road will use the same argument to try to get it defeated. If they want to exploit shale gas in the UK they can’t afford for that to happen.
“If Roseacre can get a win [and the application is refused] on the traffic issue there’s quite a lot of communities that could be in the same boat.”
“Get out of jail free card”
In allowing Cuadrilla another opportunity to make its case, the Secretary of State has given them a ‘get out of jail free card’, Mrs Richardson said.
“It’s like they’ve been given another bite of the cherry. They’re trying to put a square peg into a round hole. They’re trying to shove something in and completely disregarding local road safety.
“But what rabbits are Cuadrilla likely to pull out of the hat. What can they do to bypass what are already significant issues relating to the route? I don’t know. Unless they’re going to drop something on us that we’re not expecting.”
Mrs Richardson criticised other aspects of the planning system which she described as unfair.
“We’re just ordinary people who just haven’t got the resources that Cuadrilla have got.”
RAG has raised thousands of pounds and individual committee members had contributed from their own funds, she said. But the experience had taken its toll on campaigners.
“I think they [the government] deliberately drag it out because they know that people get tired and a lot of people go by the wayside. We’re physically and mentally exhausted.”
She also criticised the system for restricting what the inspector could consider in making her decision. Ms McKay disagreed with RAG that the application should be refused because of its impact on noise and the landscape. She concluded that because the application was for five years it counted as temporary.
But Mrs Richardson said:
“There’s an elderly couple who have a caravan park in Roseacre village. They’ve already been told by their customers who’ve been coming year after year that if Cuadrilla starts drilling and fracking down the road they won’t be coming back. They’ll go to some other caravan site. The inspector says ‘Yes the site will impact on some local businesses but there’s only a few and it’s only temporary’. But it’s not to Marshall and his wife. It’s not a temporary thing. It could well ruin their business.”
“Not a single minister has deigned to come and speak to us”
RAG has written to the local MP, Mark Menzies, urging him to arrange a meeting between ministers and villagers. Mrs Richardson said:
“Not a single minister has deigned to come and speak to us, the people they say who matter. But they’ll listen to the oil and gas lobbyists who have got millions to spend on that. I think it’s extremely discourteous not to talk to us or to engage with us. The reason is they’ve already made up their own minds.”
She said RAG would defend Roseacre Wood and support campaigners against Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road and other shale gas proposals. Asked what she would do, she said:
“We’re not being listened to so it’s things like protests. I’m not saying I’d do anything illegal. But we will be there on the streets with our banners and whatever we can to try to stop it.
“We’re going to continue to lobby politicians and put pressure on them. We’re going to continue to influence public opinion and make people aware and help them fight it. The fight goes on.”
Asked whether she thought the Secretary of State would eventually approve Roseacre Wood, she said:
“My gut tells me that they’ll railroad it, whatever we do.”
But she added:
“If they do, we’ll make their lives hell.
“We will make it difficult for them. Everything that they do we’ll be watching them every way and make sure that we protect everybody, as best we can.”