In this guest post, Miranda Cox, a member of Kirkham Town Council in Lancashire, reflects on the opposition to Cuadrilla’s shale gas site nearby at Preston New Road. Last week, Lee Petts wrote about his impressions of the company’s operation.
It’s been a very strange year for those of us in the anti-fracking campaign. We have made bonds forged in adversity and we have pushed ourselves to the very limits of our mental and physical tolerances.
Some of us, who previously have never protested, have been arrested and criminalised; we have been physically hurt and traumatised by a deep sense of betrayal.
Speak to many involved at the roadside or behind the scenes, and they all tell the same story, that fracking changed the way they view the whole world.
It’s a changed view not just about the environment but also about politics, democracy, economic and social norms that once accepted, are now challenged.
The sense of betrayal is directed at those authorities we have spent a lifetime respecting and expecting to be protected by.
The past month in particular, has highlighted beyond doubt that this battle is as much about our fight for democratic justice as it is about our desire to stop an industry we firmly believe is toxic to the environment, to politics and our communities.
Wednesday’s narrow vote in the Lancashire County Council’s Development Control committee to allow yet another variation in Cuadrilla’s traffic management plan, is a highly concerning political development.
Without rehearsing the argument that planning was originally refused by LCC, when it was led by Labour, it is clear that the new Conservative administration seeks to behave as their parliamentary counterparts, by resolutely voting along party lines.
There is growing resistance to fracking across the world with a number of investors divesting from construction schemes and pensions. Even the UK Government is not consistent in the message that this new fossil fuel has a place.
The economic argument is being debunked, and the safety credentials are questioned. Theresa May’s Government is attempting to re-brand as a green party whilst shamelessly pursuing fossil fuel extraction at the expense of renewables. It is an agenda of chasing short-term financial gain ahead of any responsibility to the environment or communities.
The blatant denial of evidence from the US and Australia is leaving England isolated. For a government intent on unionism it is following an isolationist agenda on fuel. Scotland has banned fracking and there’s a moratorium in Wales.
It therefore is so painful that planning conditions are changed regularly to suit the Industry rather than protect the residents, as is the purpose of planning regulations.
The fact that county councillors and officers, who rarely visit the site, who know little about protesters, appear to wave through changes based on assumption.
In the past year, Cuadrilla at the Preston New Road site has been found wanting regarding its water management, health and safety and communication. There have been numerous traffic breaches and acts of violence. Reports made by protectors have highlighted these issues.
Regulators told a community liaison Group that they “were learning on the job”. Cuadrilla is, in effect, self regulating, whilst maintaining a public facade of being a good neighbour.
Its investment in school science competitions, awards ceremonies and children’s sports is a conventional PR tactic and is combined with online astro-turf groups attempting to discredit dissident voices.
The fact the Environment Agency passed a variation in the fracking process and that LCC passed yet another traffic alteration against this background, has left many dismayed.
Adding to this cauldron of mistrust and anger are the police. Earlier this week, I had sight of some notes from a police and crime authority meeting. Fracking featured, naturally, as the police response to the protest so far has been controversial and expensive.
The injuries sustained to protesters (this writer included) include broken fingers, torn ligaments and cartilage, bruises, concussion, loss of consciousness. People have been dragged, wheelchair users tipped, people tripped, shoved and pushed.
Repeatedly we are told that the aim is to be even-handed but the balance consistently falls in favour of the industry. Scenes such as this are repeated in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, so the conclusion is that it is a deliberate attempt to curtail protest.
The briefing notes repeated the idea protesters are not local, ignoring the many locals who are roadside, or attending meetings and working behind the scenes.
This narrative of “local”and therefore legitimate, against “national” and therefore a trouble maker, has been played out since day one and repeatedly challenged by those who have been part of the demonstrations.
Unfortunately there is a disingenuous element to the Police s relationship with the community.
On one hand we are told in meetings that our rights to protest are upheld but actions on the ground have been the opposite. Despite attempts to reassure us, the fact we know what is being “spun” to authorities and the media away from the front line leaves us distrustful.
Our community relationship with our police will never be recovered.
For now, many view the force as security guards for corporate interests. Those who have seen other campaigns forewarned us, but for many the realisation has been difficult.
The police collusion in facilitation of fracking is clear when myths about protesters are perpetuated in police community meetings, repeated by the media and used as “evidence” in planning meetings.
“Shouting into the void”
Many town and parish councillors are frustrated by their inability to be heard amid the clamour to enforce the fracking agenda.
Residents are determined, when they are aware of the issues, pushing themselves to make their presence felt, while others are cowed by fear or simply don’t believe their actions will make a difference.
I understand that.
Having stuck my head over the parapet I know how hard it is to keep going, to keep shouting into the void, to make complaints.
We are fighting an entire system, not just one industry.
We are faced with a Government infiltrated by oil and gas lobbyists, and faced with a County Council and regulators incapable of robust action. And we are fighting perceptions too, as we have a media, which at best, likes to paint anti-fracking campaigners as extremists, or at worse just ignores the protest.
As we prepare to rally resistance to a second site, tucked away in rural Fylde at Roseacre, we cannot help believe that even-handed judgement is a thing of fiction.
This post first appeared on social media and the Frack Free Lancashire website
Categories: guest post