Councillors in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, have rejected proposals to employ a specialist to represent them at a hearing that will decide the area’s fracking policy for the next 20 years.
At a special meeting tonight, the district council, which includes Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, voted against the idea for the second time.
A motion calling for the use of an expert planner at the hearing on the county’s minerals strategy was defeated by 16 votes to 10 with one abstention.
The decision was met with disappointment among many opponents of fracking who had gathered outside the meeting at the council’s offices in Malton.
There was also anger about the way the meeting had been organised. An hour before the start about 150 people were standing outside in the dark. One person had queued for three hours hoping to attend.
But the council said only 30 people could come into the council chamber. Entry was decided by drawing raffle tickets from a bucket. Council chairman, William Oxley cited health and safety reasons for the decision to limit numbers.
“Getting a good deal for Ryedale”
Council officers are due to represent Ryedale at the Examination in Public of the North Yorkshire joint minerals and waste plan. At the hearing, the government-appointed inspector will assess the plan to ensure that it is robust and complies with national policy. She will hear evidence from the public, local councils, regulators and the industry.
The North Yorkshire plan, developed by the county council, North York Moors National Park Authority and the City of York, is very significant because it is the first in England to set policy on fracking. It is expected to become a template that is used by other parts of the country.
Supporters of the tonight’s proposal had argued that Ryedale needed a specialist minerals planner, at a cost of about £12,000, to represent its interests. They feared the oil and gas industry would seek to weaken the regulations in the plan.
The author of the motion, Cllr Paul Andrews, argued:
“Our officers will do their best but they are not specialised mineral planners. They will be at a disadvantage against highly paid consultants representing the oil and gas industry. This is about getting a good deal for our residents. This is a no-brainer.”
Cllr Lindsey Burr, who seconded the motion, said:
“This debate is not about being for or against fracking. It is about protecting Ryedale.”
She said the district could not expect the county council to stand up for Ryedale.
“This motion is about looking after ourselves.”
Cllr Di Keal, a supporter of the proposal, said the council needed to match the skills of industry consultants.
“By not supporting this proposal we are putting this council and our residents at a disadvantage.”a
Another support, Cllr Tim Thornton, said
“The industry are not going to turn up [at the Examination in Public] with a bunch of amateurs. …. We need that professional help.”
Cllr Mike Potter said fracking would have an impact on every Ryedale resident and business and the minerals plan was worth defending robustly.
“Waste of public money”
Opponents of the proposal said the council didn’t need to spend public money on an expert to defend its policy, agreed in 2016, for a moratorium on fracking.
Cllr Janet Sanderson said employing a consultant was unnecessary duplication.
“We have already expressed our view as non-experts. Why pay for an expert to defend a non-expert view”.
Cllr Luke Ives said the council had already voted in July 2017 against employing a minerals consultant. He accused opponents of fracking of disrupting a recent council meeting in what he said was “striking at the heart of our democracy”.
Cllr Linda Cowling said she could not condone “wasting pubic money on expensive consultants”. She said money could be spent instead on removing the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp, which she described as illegal and threatening.
Cllr Caroline Goodrick said employing a consultant could put the plan at risk, while Cllr Steve Arnold said:
“This is a complete and utter waste of tax payer’s money. I will not be bullied…Most people I know have never even heard of a joint mineral waste plan and most people I know, to be honest, are sick to death of hearing about fracking”
The council also debated whether it should continue to support a ban on fracking in the Vale of Pickering and the Wolds, as well as the North York Moors.
Cllr John Clark, an opponent of fracking, said it was illogical to exclude the process from particular areas.
“If fracking is not safe then by definition it should not be excluded from some places. It should not be anywhere.”
Cllr Thornton, a former GP, said if fracking went ahead it should be put in places with no people. He said he loved the North York Moors but he could not countenance putting fracking pads within 3km of pregnant women.
“We should not be protecting landscapes before people”.
An amendment which supported employing an consultant but proposed removing the ban on fracking in the Vale of Pickering and the Wolds from Ryedales policy, was defeated by 23 votes to four.
“Breaking every rule of accountability”
Several councillors criticised the exclusion of large numbers of people who wanted to attend the meeting.
Cllr Burr said “We have never done this”. Cllr Keal said she had asked, unsuccessfully, for the meeting to be moved to a bigger venue. “It breaks every rule of accountability and transparency”, she said.
At previous meetings, the council chamber has held up to 100 members of the public. Cllr Andrews said he had been involved with the council since 1988. “On no occasion have I ever known members of the public to be excluded.
Cllr Oxley said the decision to limit numbers had been taken on the advice of the emergency planning team at North Yorkshire County Council, along with the police, the fire and rescue and ambulance services.
After the meeting, Cllr Keal said:
“The exclusion of people who tried to attend the meeting last night was disgraceful. They simply wanted to exercise their democratic right to listen to the debate and were barred from doing so on spurious health and safety grounds.
“The council chamber has in the past accommodated far more than 30 members of the public and requests from myself and other councillors to move to another venue such as the Milton Rooms because of the level of interest in the debate were simply dismissed by officers. Some people had waited for several hours to gain entry only to be told they couldn’t unless they were selected in ‘raffle’ of seats. It was simply outrageous and made a mockery of local democracy.”
Eddie Thornton, of Pickering, responded to the vote:
“We are constantly told by our government that fracking can be safe if it’s well regulated. Our council had an opportunity to strengthen those regulations last night, but despite strong voices of support, the leading Tory group voted against the interests of the community, saying it was a waste of money. This is the same council that spent half a million pounds on a failed bid to sell a car park, and yet they won’t spend £10,000 to get the best deal for Ryedale.”
Reporting on this post was made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop