Is it time to Frack on?
The Conservative Party made large gains in the recent local council elections, particularly situated in key hotspots for so-called ‘fracking’ and shale gas. Lancashire County Council, which currently hosts the heavily contested horizontal fracturing site, Preston New Road, saw an 11-seat gain, granting them with 46 seats on the Council and full control. The Fylde division containing Cuadrillas’ site at Preston New Road, remained Independent, with the sitting councillors Paul Hayhurst and Liz Oades opposing the unconventional technique. The Green Party, whose stance around the Fylde was to try to ban the process, achieved on average 5% of the vote in Lytham, St Annes and the Wyre.
This comes at a time when the gap between public support and opposition is narrowing. The most recent wave of the BEIS Public Attitudes tracker puts the gap between support and opposition at -11%, a continuing fall since the biggest difference of -16% in autumn 2016. The survey saw rises in the proportion of people who said there was a need to use all available energy sources and that fracking would be good for local jobs. It is fair to say that Britain’s infrastructure is in sharp focus socially, environmentally and as a General Election issue, and so it will be the task of the operators to win the support of politicians and communities to fend off professionally-mobilised lobbying by green groups. With the Conservatives now in full control of Lancashire County Council, it may appear to be easier for the Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, to lobby the newly elected cabinet and development control committee (planning). In turn, the support and recommendations made by the Environmental Agency and Health and Safety Executive may prove to carry more weight when the committee sits to decide upon present and future applications.
A lobbying strategy
However, and even despite Conservative gains, many Tory councillors have been actively campaigning against the process, making life invariably difficult for the Conservatives to pursue their manifesto promise of a ‘fracked’ future. Michael Green, a Conservative on the Planning Committee for example, and who voted against the Preston New Road application, was returned to the council, as was Labour’s Kevin Ellard, who also voted against. Transparency and building trust with the public will be integral to kick-starting the industrialisation of fracking in the North. Cuadrilla recently opened its site up to public viewings as a means of doing this, with a 18x12m platform allowing residents to observe work on the site and conduct peaceful and lawful protest. This has previously proved to be successful with the UK oil industry. Igas, a producer of 3,000 barrels per day of oil at 105 UK sites mostly in the Weald Basin in Hampshire and West Sussex, Lincolnshire and the North-West, has been able to allay some of the concerns by taking politicians, journalists and residents to see existing sites
Acquiring new sources of cheap energy is one of the most important issues facing Britain today, not only to fuel millions of homes, but because it is needed to spur on investment in manufacturing. Jim Ratcliffe, Chief Executive of INEOS in an exclusive interview with The Times said recently that “If you go back 20 years, manufacturing in the UK was the same as Germany, at about 23 to 24% of GDP. Germany today is the same level, but the UK is at 9.2%. We’re at the bottom of the list among the major economies. The decline in manufacturing has most severely affected the North of England, where I come from.” Conservative gains in Lancashire and North Yorkshire should therefore give future cabinets and planning committees leverage to improve the North’s manufacturing base with practices such as fracking possibly becoming commonplace in the near future. It will be the task of Sajid Javid now to lobby the newly elected councils firmly in order to fulfil their manifesto promise.
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