Police rest days cancelled over fracking protest fears

Land off Preston New Road where Cuadrilla want to drill for gas
Land off Preston New Road where Cuadrilla want to drill for gas
  • Police rest days cancelled
  • Council braced for trouble

Police have cancelled officers’ rest days as the Fylde coast looks poised to become the new battleground for anti-fracking activists.

Protesters are set to descend on County Hall tomorrow as councillors decide whether to back recommendations to allow drilling for shale gas at land off Preston New Road in Little Plumpton.

Tina Rothery

Tina Rothery

Councillors have been warned to expect disruption – with concerns now being raised the A583 could become the scene of battles between police and opponents to fracking, many of whom may not be local to the area.

Fracking has attracted fierce protests – as witnessed in Balcombe in 2013, where the cost of policing protesters ran to around £4m.

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “Whenever we are aware of planned protests we always try to work with the organisers to facilitate a peaceful protest while being clear that we will not tolerate crime or disorder.

“We will provide an appropriate policing response and ensure that there are suitable resources to both facilitate peaceful protest and to police the rest of the county.”

Whenever we are aware of planned protests we always try to work with the organisers to facilitate a peaceful protest while being clear that we will not tolerate crime or disorder.

Anti-fracking campaign Tina Rothery said: “We feel Lancashire Police has facilitated our peaceful protests very well until now and we would like to see that continue.

“We have never had a single issue so far in Lancashire.

“But we came away from places like Balcombe and Barton Moss battered and bruised.

“We have built relationships with the police – we have meetings, they read our Facebook.

“They know what we are doing.”

She said she would welcome a police presence next week but said she hoped it would not be “too visible”.

She added: “I don’t think we need to be made to look like criminals.”

In reference to planned protests at County Hall on tomorrow, the Lancashire Police spokesman added: “Rest days have been cancelled for a small number of selected officers to provide additional resilience for next week only.

“Any officers with pre-booked annual leave will still be allowed their planned time off. There will be officers in the area to protect and reassure members of the public. If anyone commits a criminal offence they will be dealt with fairly but firmly.”

County council officers have recommended Cuadrilla’s plans for Preston New Road be approved – but that the Roseacre Wood be rejected, mainly on the grounds of traffic problems.

Councillors will have the final say in meetings scheduled to go on for up to three days.

Environmental protestors and green activists from all over the country are expected to lobby County Hall, along with large numbers of Lancashire residents opposed to the impact the industry will have on their lives.

Councillors have been warned by County Hall that “some of the protesters may aim to disrupt the business of the county council during this time, and may seek to bring some disruption to the local area and transport links”.

Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Daisy Sands said: “Local activists will be out in numbers on Tuesday to support Lancashire residents.

“Two thirds of local people are in favour of a moratorium on fracking.

“They don’t want Lancashire to be the testing lab for an inexperienced and risky industry, and councillors should listen to their plea.”

Meanwhile members of the pro-fracking camp have urged high profile protesters from the South East to stay away.

With groups across the country planning to travel to Lancashire to make their voices heard, fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood has confirmed she will be making an appearance, with other celebrities rumoured to follow suit.

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said: “Professional activists and celebrities, with no stake whatsoever in the local area are seeking to intimidate the deliberations of Lancashire County Council.

“These people will be entirely unaffected if Lancashire misses this opportunity for new jobs and investment.

“In the most undemocratic manner they are trying to force their dogma on the people of Lancashire.”

When the County Hall hearings were originally scheduled in January, there were major protests with activists travelling from as far away as London.

If given the go-ahead, Cuadrilla expects test drilling to start early next year, but there could be work on site before that.

Cuadrilla declined to comment, saying responsibility for security matters at County Hall lies with Lancashire County Council.

However, the firm did respond to news that elected officials in New York State, which banned fracking in December, have written to councillors in Lancashire to urge them to refuse the two applications.

The state banned fracking amid public health concerns.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “These officials from New York State have no knowledge of Cuadrilla’s applications or of the regulatory controls in the UK and should not be interfering in the democratic process and decisions which will be made by the elected representatives of the people of Lancashire.”