A Rocha is one of the leading Christian Green groups and has been active worldwide for 30 years, having started in Portugal. In January 2016 Andy Atkins, who was CEO of Friends of the Earth until June 2015, will take over as CEO of A Rocha. In this invited blog on Mark Avery’s blog entitled Death of Democracy http://markavery.info/2015/12/04/21678/#comment-1028932 Andy Lester, conservation director of the wildlife charity A Rocha UK, writes on how he considers local democracy to have been throttled in Lancashire, by the Secretary of State taking the responsibility for the final decision over exploratory (not extractive) fracking in Lancashire into his own hands.
To put it briefly Andy reckons the rejection of Cuadrilla’s two proposals by Lancashire County council as a triumph of local democracy
Surely this was a great example of democracy in action?
and the Secy of State’s recent action to make the decision himself as “The Death of Democracy”. As he says,
” The residents of Roseacre and Little Plumpton have woken up to the fact that democracy is dead – at least it feels that way in the north of Lancashire.
Undoubtedly some of the residents of the two villages were distressed by the Secy of States announcement, but I wonder how many. Despite living in Lancashire close to Cuadrilla’s sites, no one has complained to me about the death of democracy. If the residents of the Fylde were so anti-fracking why were most MPs elected in May Conservative?
And he continues;
Many of you will remember the victory over fracking giant Cuadrilla back in June this year. At that time a huge public campaign against fracking resulted in the rejection of two schemes in Lancashire by the County Council.
Yes, some of us were in County Hall for the deliberations and decision! But this statement is totally hyped. I was not aware Cuadrilla was a fracking giant as it is a small exploration company, which is largely owned by
A scaremongering meme about Cuadrilla from Talkfracking
Centrica, who have developed a large off-shore windfarm off Heysham a mere 20 miles from Roseacre. I am told that renewables and fracking are mutually exclusive but maybe the board of Centrica are a trifle confused 🙂 . The decision agaisnt the exploratory drilling was seen as a victory for anti-frackers and there was great jubilation.
However, Andy sums it up when he refers to a “huge public campaign”, but we should ask how far that was local and whether it reflected the views of the people of Lancashire. As we consider what happened we may or may not see it as “a great example of democracy in action”.
Andy’s next comments are rather more contentious;
Local people had done their homework about the risks of fracking; had enlisted the support of a wide range of local and national groups and managed an effective and honest campaign against test drilling. The council listened to the objections; decided in favour of the public they represent and Cuadrilla was sent packing.
Let’s look at each of those in turn. Had local people done their homework? The results of their homework are seen on their facebook sites; Preston New Road Action Group , Roseacre Awareness Group-RAG, Residents against Fracking -Fylde (RAFF) and various others. All the latest scare stories were prominently displayed with concerns about massive earthquakes, sink holes,
Here is a re-post implying that a collapsed sewer in Southport could be due to fracking 4 mls away. This is either total misunderstanding or scaremongering
fracking would give everyone cancer. As for RAFF, they withrew their well-researched leaflet Shale Gas;the Facts. Even the Lanashire Nanas warned us about chemicals giving us cancer.
Two Nanas protesting outside County Hall and concerned about fracking giving cancer
The results of the homework were evident in the presentations in June to the Lancashire County Council, which consisted of the usual anti-fracking memes presented in a well-co-ordinated way. We were told that all wells will fail, fluids will always rise to the surface and pollute aquifers, the stragraphy was too chaotic for fracking (citing Prof Stephenson, who never mentioned that in his book Shale Gas), damage done by earthquakes like the sewage works at Steyning (of which theri is no record), references to the Medact report (largely written by Mike Hill) , “the integrity of the soil would be ruined for farmers” (if so why were farmers allowing it on their land ); Weeton school refused to deal with the risk of cancer for thier children;
Flaring would only last a few weeks and would be the combustion products of methane i.e. Water and CO2. The school gets a steady supply of VOCs, diesel fumes etc from the M56 200 yds away.
; that “industrialised monster to stamp its dirty feet” and that the councillors were misled by Mr Perigo, who had only presented a narrow range of material. Mr Perigo received twitter abuse after the meetings.
A tweet by the Westby Community aimed at the Planning Officer, a pun on the Spanish for Danger – Perigo
(What Mr Perigo did wrong was to present the evidence provided by the Environment Agency , Public Health England and other recognised experts. He gave a very thorough and balanced summary.)
Now there WAS the “support of a wide range of local and national groups”. At so many meetings Friends of the Earth were present, giving advice , offering training in public speaking, persuading the churches to fall in line and so on. Having once been an active member of FoE I had long held them in high respect, I was surprised at this. In March 2014 I went to a meeting led by RAFF at Inskip. I was appalled at the inaccuarcy of the speakers, and when I challenged them the local FoE campaigner totally supported them. (My challenge was on their poor grasp of geology.) They handed out a leaflet Shale Gas; the Facts, which was withdrawn in January 2015 after two OAPs gave a detailed complaint to the ASA. Here is the complaint with some commentary; http://wp.me/p4fjWT-5u
More recently FoE has paid for leaflets about fracking in the Fylde to be inserted into various publications including the Sunday Times and Private Eye, claiming that
and apealling for donations including some on the grounds that Cuadrilla needs to be investigated – presumably for shoddy practice. This I discussed with a blog http://wp.me/p4fjWT-sh, which gives the substance of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority made by the same two OAPs! Cuadrilla has also put in complaints.
There was also the involvement of Greenpeace with their misleading Not for Shale campaign, implying that house prices would drop, which may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. To many “Minor Tremors” would not mean tremors which are unfelt and causing no damage but the possibilty of serious earthquakes. The two tremors of 2011 were of Magnitude 1.5 and 2.3 . This is the BGS report on it; http://earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk/research/events/BlackpoolMay2011.html Numbers felt the tremor but no damage was identified, despite later claims. A Mag 1.5 tremor is equivalent to a train going past.
This sign appeared in Roseacre soon after Cuadrilla announced their applications in Feb 2014
One of the most active anti-frackers on the Fylde has been the engineer Mike Hill, who owns a small firm provided equipment for drilling, including fracking. From 2011 he organised meetings on the Fylde warning of the dangers of fracking and claiming that proper regulations were not in place, which is not the case.
Screenshot of his deleted twitter account. It is misleading as the flares shown will not be allowed in the UK as they have to be much smaller and enclosed like this one below at a biogas plant near Lytham. Also Lord Brown DID NOT sack the previous CEO of Cuadrilla, Mark Miller. It helps to have met Mark in the USA!
Flare stacks as used and permitted in the UK
Hill claims expert knowledge and others have challenged his knowledge of fracking techniques. As a geologist, I am most aghast at his claim that a few 8in holes 8000ft below the surface could cause the Fylde coast to subside below sea level. I have frequently had to explain to local residents that this is simply impossible as, if it were a risk, London would have subsided 100 years ago with the network of tunnels below surface in soft rock. His understanding of seismicity is equally poor yet many consider him an expert. At the launch of the Medact report in March 2015 he stressed there were over 50 seismic events associated with fracking at Presses Hall. That is true and several were concerned. As all these were Mag 1 or less they were no more than tremors caused by someone jumping off a table!!
As well as influencing many of the Fylde he also advised a panel for the diocese of Blackburn under the Dean. The main part of that report repeated Hill’s false claims on regulations and in the screenshot below Hill states how he influenced the Churches. The report is now on the Churches Together in Lancashire website, but they did also post my rebuttal. http://www.ctlancashire.org.uk/issues/
To conclude local groups DID carry out an “effective” campaign which resulted in the refusal of planning permission, but I think I have shown that they did not do their “homework” properly and at times were not quite “honest”. No one can deny how effective they were in persuading both local communities and councillors.
We do not know why the planning commitee rejected the application going against the Planning Officer’s recommendations. We probably never will.
I have analysed Mark’s introductory paragraph to show that he simply does not understand what has happened in Lancashire over the last few years and is wrong to see that it was local democracy in action. It was not, as it was pressure groups forcing their particular ideas on communities who were suspicious of a newish technology. It has been difficult for Lancashire people to assess the pros and cons of fracking with this amount on misinformation. Sadly Mark has only considered the “anti” narrative, though that it common.
I have now considered Mark’s assessment of the push to get Cuadrilla’ applications turned down and on the face of it that was successful in June 2015. Cuadrilla lodged an appeal but before that could be heard the minister of state has called it in. In fact, this quite frequently happens, but usually it is not well-known.
Mark then went on to write;
But now we learn that Cuadrilla’s appeal against the decision made by Lancashire County Council has receive the sympathetic support of our “Communities and Local Government” minister Greg Clark. In 2016 the government planning inspector will hear the appeal from Cuadrilla – but won’t be allowed to make a decision on whether drilling can commence next autumn. Instead that decision will fall to the minister responsible for representing communities. The minister alone will make a decision that won’t only impact the residents of Roseacre and Little Plumpton – but will send shock waves around communities across the UK who still believe in the power or people pressure and democratic change.
It has to be said that this is all part of the democratic process in Britain, and on previous occasions has not caused “shock waves”. Here one’s perception will depend on whether one sees the way things happened on the Fylde as democratic or manipulated. I hope I have made the case for it being done in anything but a democratic way.
Mark then piles it on;
But perhaps the most significant concern of all is the risk that democracy in our villages and towns will die in 2016 because we feel totally disempowered. If the current government is allowed to step in to overturn the interests of local people represented by their County Council – it is a totalitarian step into a political abyss. Where just like in China and Russia today, the wider public feel they have nothing to contribute because whatever they say or do it won’t make a difference to the outcome.
This is simply absurd and ignores the whole way in which communities were manipulated by pressure groups, who prevented a free and open discussion. I was one of many who felt that local democracy in Lancashire had died last June. I hope it will recover, but it will not if democracy is taken over by pressure groups who operate by stifling any dissent or questioning.
To conclude I do agree with Marks’s final sentences and have lobbied my MP (whose assessment is similar to mine). Yes, we need to give “plenty of Evidence” and any decision must be based on “plenty of evidence”, but what has been put forward by the anti-fracking pressure groups simply does not count as evidence due to its sheer inaccuracy.
I will give Mark the last word as I agree with him!!:
The only way to bring about change inside the democratic process is to lobby your MP hard. Some of the MPs of all parties are genuinely decent men and women who want to get re-elected. If we give them plenty of evidence of why a decision is not in the interests of local people – they are forced to act and the government are left with no choice but to listen. Tough times indeed – but hope in our democracy is not quite dead – yet.