Battle lines drawn as fight begins

Protesters gather on the first day of the hearing
Protesters gather on the first day of the hearing
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Opposing sides in the fracking debate spent hours urging councillors to support their stance on shale gas in Lancashire.

Scores of members of the public addressed councillors as the long-awaited hearing into shale gas exploration in Lancashire finally got under way.

Bez at the anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

Bez at the anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

County Council planners have recommended that Cuadrilla’s application to drill for shale gas at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, be approved.

But objectors including John Tootil, of Maple Farm Nursery Gardens, told members of the development control committee that he was totally opposed to the plan.

He said he lived only 800 metres from the proposed Preston New Road fracking site.

Mr Tootill said Cuadrilla wanted to drill around and under his home. He said his proximity to a fracking site would make his business ‘unviable’.

If the application is approved, it would destroy our business, our way of life, four full-time jobs and our home

Any contaminated water or leakages would spill down under his properties, he said.

Mr Tootil said: “If the application is approved, it would destroy our business, our way of life, four full-time jobs and our home.”

Cuadrilla claims that the shale gas industry could brings a jobs boom to Lancashire. But opponents say there is a danger of earthquakes,and health risks from contamination.

The council’s chief planner set out his case why he felt Cuadrilla’s application for Preston New Road should be approved.

The anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

The anti-fracking protest at County Hall, Preston

Stuart Perigo said there had been more than 18,000 objections received against Cuadrilla’s plans – many in a template form.

Only around 2,000 were from the Fylde – less than five per cent of the population.

But he said many of the issues had been addressed and he felt that the application could not be rejected on the grounds of perceived fears about the effect on the environment or public health.

Traffic and noise around the site were issues that could be addressed with conditions.

Mr Perigo said he accepted that there would be disruption – particularly to people living in the immediate area. But the “negative impact” would be short-lived.

Mr Perigo recommended the bid to frack at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, be approved. Members of the public invited to the hearing spoke of their fears of the dangers to public health and the environment caused by fracking. They said Lancashire was being used as “a guinea pig” for an industry that very little was known about.

Peter Watson, of Staining Wood Farm, said he also lived near the proposed site. He said the fracking industry had no “fit for purpose” regulatory system.

Mr Watson said there would also be an impact on tourism – he knew many people who were opposed to fracking but were too afraid to speak out.

Susan Holliday, who lives 300m from the proposed site, said claims of many jobs being created were exaggerated.

Only 11 full-time jobs were talked about in the application documents.

She said the increased traffic and risks to health from gases and contamination were real.

Coun John Hodson of West Lancashire Council said there had been a degree of government interference in the planning process.

He urged members to reject the plans and not to take part in a “sham event” that gave the plans the green light.

St Annes County Coun Karen Henshaw, a retired magistrate, said she did not want the Fylde’s “green and pleasant land” ruined by drilling rigs, compounds and gas flares. James Walsh of Lancaster said there was “no moral, economic or social case” for fracking.

But speakers like Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said the economic benefits to the county from shale gas could be “enormous”.

Claire Smith, of Stay Blackpool, said she supported the shale gas industry if it was safely regulated. Blackpool had suffered in recent years, and towns like it needed fresh jobs and new investment.

Tony Raynor, of Abbey Telecom, said he too supported shale gas; he said the tenacity of the industry’s opponents did not actually “reflect the will of the people.”

Fylde businessman Marcus Addison said his firm’s engineers had looked at Cuadrilla’s plans to reduce noise around the Preston New Road site and agreed the firm had addressed the issue.

Cuadrilla’s second application for Roseacre Wood, near Elswick, has been recommended for refusal, mainly on traffic grounds.

The hearing is expected to last until Friday.

World focus turns to town hearing

With the eyes of the world on the Fylde coast this week, hundreds of young, old and even a host of dogs came out in force to voice their objections.

The sun beamed over the anti-fracking groups, residents and people from across the globe who had flown in to hold banners and turn the streets outside County Hall, Preston, into a mini anti-frack ‘carnival’ as they staged a peaceful protest outside County Hall yesterday.

Hundreds of cars beeped their support as they drove past the sea of yellow clad protesters who embraced the clear skies by drumming along.

Frack Free Fylde member Gayzer Frackman has been protesting against fracking for the past four years.

And the 54-year-old from Lytham questioned how county councillors can ignore the objections.

He said: “People from New York have written to Lancashire County Council.

“We had a ring of about 3 to 400 people all the way around County Hall holding a yellow ribbon.

“People have been honking their horns in support of us all day.

“How can they ignore this? I hope we can make a difference and raise awareness about the health dangers of fracking.

“Fracking threatens the three things we need to live – water, air and the soil.”

Concerned grandmother, Carole Worthington, from Treales, brought her 21-month-old granddaughter Isla.

They both held anti-fracking posters and Carole said: “I support Frack Free Lancashire. I’m just an ordinary Grandma who has read up on the facts about fracking.

“It is unsafe, unsustainable and unwanted in Lancashire.

“If this goes ahead my family will have to move away for the safety of my grandchildren.”

Ali Abbas, 43, from Manchester and a Friends of the Earth volunteer said he hoped Lancashire County Council did not ‘set a dangerous precedent’ by giving the green light for drilling.

He added: “I’m here protesting because this is a vital decision.

“Not just for Lancashire but for the world. This issue is bringing people together from all walks of life. I really hope this protest makes a difference.

“90,000 people and 300 businesses have voiced their objections.

“Medical professionals and scientists have spoken out about the dangers of fracking.”

Members of the clergy also voice dtheir objections to fracking.

Rev Steve Charman from Lancaster Methodist Church, was wearing a Christian Aid top while campaigning outside the hall.

He said: “From the evidence I’ve seen fracking is bad for the environment.

“We should be caring for the environment, rather than abusing it.”

Supporters from New York

The Upstate New York Towns Association has written to the County Council to point out that not everyone in New York supports the state’s ban on fracking.

The group, which represents 15 rural areas, said they were missing out on jobs and economic development which neighbouring states had seen due to big city interests.

In the letter Carolyn Price chairman of the group states: “We know that natural gas can be developed responsibly under a modern regulatory structure, because we literally can look across the border to our Pennsylvania neighbours who are experiencing job growth from shale development with environmental protections in place.

“In conclusion, we encourage you to do right by the people of Lancashire County and the United Kingdom, and allow responsible, modern shale development.”

Dame Viv’s anti frack rally cry

Environmental campaigner and fashion icon Dame Vivienne Westwood urged Lancashire County Council to put people before profits as she joined the demonstrations in Lancashire.

The acclaimed fashion designer and human rights activist travelled to Preston to take part in an anti-fracking rally yesterday. The council are currently deliberating on whether to allow planning permission to energy company Cuadrilla to drill at two sites Roseacre and Little Plumpton. And the Dame stood outside County Hall in front of hundreds of people and urged the council to reject the applications. She said: “What we want is for this council to be responsible to people instead of to profit.”

The 74-year-old was joined by members of Frack Free Lancashire, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. And the Dame said winning this fight was crucial in the battle against fracking.

She said: “We have to win this fight in case we have another fight after this. If we don’t win this fight it puts us in a bad position.”

And a spokesman for Preston police said there was no trouble during yesterday’s rally.

The spokesman said: “There where plenty of peaceful protests yesterday without any issue.”