Reflections on the fight for a frack-free Lancashire
The plans were loose; we would gather for a community conversation about what next now that Westminster has seen fit to drill the democracy right out of Lancashire and enforce fracking on an unwilling population and the Council that represents us.
By the time the day’s event was due to start, already a few hundred had begun to arrive; according to the BBC radio man who was trying to count, there were well over 300 by 11am and that many of them left and were then replaced over the course of the day by up to a further 500 people. The turnout was exceptional and not really because of the numbers but more because of the diversity and the strength of local residents who were by far in the majority. Support too came from further afield with visitors from Yorkshire, Herefordshire and Manchester.
This community has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds incurred in costs for the planning and appeal and at a time when our Council can least afford it. What has happened is now laying raw as a warning to other councils that perhaps it would be a lot less costly to simply say yes to any fracking plans. The price of democracy is too rich for the citizens but not so for an industry so woven into government it is hard to spot the seams.
There is a rage inside us but you wouldn’t have known it as we gathered at Maple Farm (alongside the impending fracking field) on Saturday. I arrived at 10am and already someone had literally built a stage/platform for speakers, someone else had made a start on a merchandise table and the refreshments area was well under-way. There was no real clear allocation of responsibilities amongst our very united but very autonomous groups and individuals but I notice in this campaign that people just seem to get on with what needs doing and it all turns out.
Soon hi-viz jacketed folk were ushering vehicles to car parks and the whole place lit up with sunshine, colourful banners and people. We listened to speeches from residents groups, Friends of the Earth and local residents themselves. One of the familiar faces of determination in this campaign, Anne Power, 84 caused a stir and a lot of laughter (and only the slightest moment of actual consideration!) when she mentioned the French Revolution and heads rolling!
Around 2pm we began the walk up the road, past the three earmarked fields where we intended to turn at the Landowners place – along the way each tied a yellow ribbon in the hedges and although we were too many for the verges and spilled out onto the road, the police maintained a slow pace of traffic and drivers honked in support.
My personal rage did peak once we reached the landowner’s property as he and the security guards hired for him by Cuadrilla have been a nasty presence in our community for some years. Others too who I recognise as sharing five years of reasonable, fair and lawful campaigning were alongside me – they too having taken a beating when, despite our Council representing our wishes, Westminster erased their and our input as meaningless. Things got loud as we sang and leant on the gate, face to face with security guards and police looking on trying to ensure safety.
At one point a security guard was being antagonistic and it was clear things could get difficult if they didn’t move away. The police made the wise decision to send them back as we finished our song and gathered ourselves for the return to Maple Farm for tea and cake. A pure victory in my eyes; we maintained our control and left the landowner wondering what next… much like our community has suffered with for five years. Even those more able and experienced in the world of activism, pulled back because now is not the time to be drawn into violence. We have much ahead to do and as the petitions are done, planning objected to, MPs lobbied, Councillors informed and public meetings complete – all to no avail now – we find ourselves trying to work out who we are, how we will act and what each of us will do now that the rules have been changed.
Watch this space because although I may not know what specifically happens next, I do know that there isn’t a single person I know who will stand aside and let this dangerous business into our community and anywhere near our children.
Photo credit: Cheryl Atkinson and Ros Wills