Pedestrians have been barred from using the grass verges beside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool for more than a year and a half.
Lancashire County Council said this afternoon it had issued two temporary regulation orders for the short sections of verge either side of the site entrance at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.
One order ran from 12 July to 1 August and the second from 1 August to 31 January 2019. Temporary Traffic Order Preston New Road
The ban emerged following a response to a Freedom of Information request about the cost of guarding the verges.
The council revealed that it had spent £59,280 for a month on security guards to prevent anti-fracking protesters using the verges either side of the site entrance.
In its response, the council also said:
“The County Council did fund security personnel on the highway in the vicinity of the site (this has now ceased) though public use of the highway is currently temporarily prohibited.”
Environmental campaigner, Helen Chuntso, who made the Freedom of Information (FOI) request, described the security contract as a “misuse of the public purse” and the ban on pedestrian use of the verges as “stretching the interpretation” of a temporary traffic order to “facilitate Cuadrilla”.
The verges had been used by opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation at Preston New Road.
Tents and pallet towers occupied the grass earlier this summer
High Court bailiffs evicted the tents and one tower on the morning of 12 July.
Another tower was demolished on 3 July, at a cost of £1,000, paid for by Lancashire Police.
This afternoon, Lancashire County Council told DrillOrDrop:
“As the land owner and highway authority we have a duty to consider the safety of road users. We undertook possession proceedings to secure the grass verge due to concerns that structures erected by protestors posed a serious safety risk to people using this busy A-road as well as the protestors themselves.
“After taking possession of the verge, we erected fencing and employed a security company to prevent the grass verge being reoccupied, also issuing a Temporary Traffic Regulation Notice prohibiting access to that part of the highway.
“In the meantime, the operator applied for a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting access to the verge, which has been agreed in line with our normal practice in relation to works near the highway and concerns for safety.”
The order was published in the local Lancashire Evening Post and Blackpool Gazette newspapers and was displayed at the site, a spokesperson said.
According to the Freedom of Information response, the council employed six Security Industry Association-approved officers, two with guard dogs, to prevent access to the verges.
The arrangement was initially for one week but a further period of three weeks was agreed between the council and the contractor, the FOI response said.
“The contractor provided a quote based on the level of security they believed was suitable.
“I understand that, during an initial period, the contractor felt that an additional 2 officers should be on site. This additional cost was borne by the contractor.
“The council was satisfied that the contractor’s estimated personnel was proportionate to ensure safety of all, including their officers.”
Helen Chuntso said:
“In taking out a £59K contract to fund the private security guards of a corporation, Lancashire County Council are both misusing the public purse, and stretching the interpretation of the scope of a Temporary TRO to the fullest to facilitate Cuadrilla.
“This effectively removes the right to lawful protest on this section of public highway. With LCC only too happy to move these goalposts, weeks after a very tepid response to Cuadrilla’s planning conditions breach, it looks very much like the Council’s role is merely to quietly extend the red carpet further down the road for Cuadrilla, at taxpayer’s expense.”