Friends of the Earth has warned that an injunction against anti-fracking protests at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site could prevent peaceful lawful opposition.
The campaign organisation, which has organised events outside the site, has written to the High Court, which will hear the company’s application for a new injunction tomorrow morning (31 May 2018).
Cuadrilla is seeking to replace an injunction issued in March 2017 that prevented trespass on the Preston New Road site and neighbouring farmland.
The new order, if approved, would last for two years and additionally prohibit protest techniques used regularly since Cuadrilla it began work at the site in January 2017. These include obstruction of the site entrance, blockading of suppliers, slow-walking in front of lorries and lock-ons, where campaigners lock themselves together or to gates or equipment.
People who breach the order could be found in contempt of court and face prison, fines or the seizure of their assets.
In its letter to the court, Friends of the Earth said all its campaigning at Preston New Road had been “entirely lawful”. Friends of the Earth letter to the High Court
But it said:
“Our members and supporters will have genuine and well-founded concerns about taking part in lawful protest activity and we as an organisation will have serious reservations about encouraging them to do so.
“It will be clear that the result is a significant interference with our campaigning work with a very serious chilling effect on peaceful lawful opposition to the Claimants’ activities.
“In our view this would constitute an infringement of our right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, as protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.”
Cuadrilla is waiting for a decision on its application to the Energy Secretary to frack the UK’s first shale gas well. Its planning application for Preston New Road was refused by Lancashire County Council but approved by the then Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, after an appeal.
Helen Rimmer, Friends of the Earth’s north west campaigner, said:
“Local people have already had their democratic decision to reject fracking overturned by Westminster, and now their democratic right to protest is under threat as well.
“Fracking is highly unpopular, bad for our environment and bad for our climate – people must be allowed to take part in legitimate activities to oppose it.”
The organisation is not challenging the injunction but the case is expected to be opposed when it opens at Manchester’s Civil Justice Centre at 10.30am.
Opponents of fracking across northern England are expected to gather outside the court for a rally before the case begins.
Judy Paskell, from Frack Free Greater Manchester said:
“We are gathering outside the High Court hearing in Manchester to demonstrate against this attempt by fracking company Cuadrilla to curtail peaceful protest.
“We are standing up for our right to protest against a central Government decision to steamroller through fracking against the democratically expressed will of the people of Lancashire, whose local councils rejected Cuadrilla’s plans to frack.
“Fracking risks devastating the local environment and our climate – instead of filthy fracking we need a million climate jobs, including in clean and secure renewable energy production.”
Cuadrilla announced the injunction application last week on the same day it confirmed it was seeking final fracking consent.
At the time, the company said it respected the right to peaceful and legal protest. But Chief Executive, Francis Egan, said:
“unfortunately over the last 18 months we have seen an extraordinarily high level of unlawful protest activity.
“This has been directed at and impacted not just our workers but also our suppliers and other law abiding citizens using the main road passing our site for their normal daily activities.
“Such unlawful conduct cannot be permitted to continue, and we hope that if we can secure this injunction it will deter this unlawful behaviour which is reckless and continues to cost local taxpayers millions of pounds.”
Daily rallies and protests are continuing outside the Preston New Road site.
Next Saturday (9 June), local trades unions and community groups are planning what is described as a mass rally near the Preston New Road site. It is expected to call for a ban on fracking and the creation of a million climate jobs.
On 27 June, the third anniversary of Lancashire County Council’s decision is marked by Block Around The Clock, described as 48-hour party and blockade to oppose the shale gas site.