The Conservative government is back in court on Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 August. And this time, it’s about a controversial decision over the fate of a small Lancashire village. But the outcome of the court case could have national implications.
A fracking storm brewing
Preston New Road, near the village of Little Plumpton in Lancashire, is at the centre of a row over fracking. Cuadrilla, a shale gas extraction company, has permission to frack the site. But local people are against the company’s plans. And they have stepped up their protests since January.
The government gave the go-ahead for Cuadrilla to frack there – the first site of its kind in the UK – last year. The company officially began work on 5 January. And ever since, protesters have been at the site.
A fracking affront to democracy?
The Tories’ decision to let Cuadrilla frack has been controversial. Lancashire County Council originally refused the company’s application to frack the site. But Communities Secretary Sajid Javid stepped in last October and gave the company permission.
On 15 March, the Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) took Javid and the government to a Manchester court. PNRAG claimed Javid and the government had breached planning law. But Mr Justice Dove disagreed, saying no PNRAG arguments “have been made out in substance”.
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Frack you, Javid
Moreover with this case, the government overrode the decisions of Westby Parish Council, Fylde Borough Council, and Lancashire County Council. All three refused to grant Cuadrilla a licence to frack. So now, PNRAG has gone to the Court of Appeal to have the case looked at again.
PNRAG Chair Pat Davies told The Canary:
We trust that the Secretary of State’s decision to allow fracking at Preston New Road will be found unsound, and Lancashire County Council’s original decision will be reinstated. Even before any fracking has commenced, the local community has been subjected to disruption. They have suffered stress due to the process and since work commenced on the site, their day-to-day lives have been disrupted by convoys of HGVs, a massive police presence and many road closures.
Cuadrilla and the Lancashire police have been dogged by allegations of excessive force, violence, and underhand tactics at the site. And as The Canary has been documenting, even local councillors have accused the police of assault; something the force denies.
But Davies believes Cuadrilla knows full well what it’s doing. She told The Canary:
Cuadrilla, far from being good neighbours, have already demonstrated their contempt for the local community and planning conditions meant to protect it. They have breached planning conditions by bringing the rig on to site during the night and have commenced drilling only days prior to the appeal being heard.
People matter, communities matter. As has been demonstrated loudly and clearly over the last three years upwards, there is no social licence to frack at Preston New Road.
A fracking disgrace
What is happening in this small Lancashire village is a microcosm of the Tories’ attitude towards the public across the country. It doesn’t seem enough that they openly encourage fracking. They now feel they can ride roughshod over the democratic will of local councils, and local people. And big businesses like Cuadrilla simply bulldoze their way through, assisted by the police.
So far, it would seem that the judicial system in the UK agrees with the Tories and Cuadrilla. But the people of Lancashire will, as yet, not be moved. It is now down to the Court of Appeal to decide whether or not it agrees that fracking in the UK means a free pass to subvert democracy.
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