Fracking: Labour must stand with the people of Lancashire

Labour has a chance to show that, unlike the Tories, it is committed to tackling climate change

 

Next week Lancashire County Council will decide whether to accept or reject fracking company Cuadrilla’s two applications to frack in the area. Earlier this week the planning officer recommended approval for one of the applications.

Moratoriums have already halted fracking in Scotland and Wales, and fracking proposals have been seen off across the south of England. 

No wonder all eyes are on Lancashire. If fracking were to go ahead there, it would be the first fracking in the UK for over four years.

Back in 2011, it was Lancashire that first kicked off the fracking controversy. Cuadrilla fracked a well near Blackpool (still the only well to be fracked in Britain) which, among other issues, caused a minor earthquake, and has since been shut down.

Lancashire residents vs Osborne  

The locals remember, and have been tireless in fighting Cuadrilla’s latest fracking plans. There are now more than 35 community action groups that have been set up across Lancashire to oppose fracking, and an opinion poll showed that two-thirds of people in Lancashire want to see fracking stopped. 

I’ve spent a fair bit of time with these community activists over the past few months, and one thing that really concerns them is the scant concern from national government at the growing evidence of risks from the process, or the impact on them.

Whether it is the ban on fracking in New York State on public health grounds, or the thorough process underway in Scotland to assess risks to the environment, health and climate change – everyone seems to be taking the risks more seriously than the current government.

 The approach of the Conservatives seems to be ‘any way possible, at any cost’. This was clear from a leaked letter in which George Osborne reported a cabinet committee meeting which planned to help Cuadrilla push their fracking plans through, whatever the local community thought.

The Conservatives have done their best to use National Planning Policy to smooth the path for the frackers too, limiting the grounds that councils can turn proposals down, and changing the rules so that councils pay the legal fees of their opponents if they reject the application but then lose at appeal.

Good grounds for refusal 

Despite this, in the case of Lancashire, there remain strong planning policy reasons to reject both applications, including impacts on groundwater, carbon emissions, noise, traffic, and the landscape. 

Happily, rejecting the plans would also be in line with Labour party policy.

Caroline Flint confirmed again in parliament earlier this month that Labour’s formal position remains to oppose any fracking going ahead until the party’s ’13 conditions’ are in law – something that doesn’t seem likely any time soon with this parliamentary make up.

Labour can stand with people in Lancashire 

Perhaps more importantly for Labour though, this decision offers an opportunity for the party – at least at the local level – to stand with the people of Lancashire. 

It’s been clear for some time that any potential benefits for residents are so low they are far outweighed by the risks.

Cuadrilla’s own planning application highlights that there would be just 11 jobs created by each site – a figure that includes both ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’ employment, and Cuadrilla have themselves admitted that any impact on bills would be ‘basically insignificant’.

But for Labour, the benefits outweigh the risks. Cat Smith MP, who is asking residents to co-sign her objection letter to the council, and argued passionately against fracking in the run up to election, bucked the national trend and saw off a popular sitting Tory MP in Lancaster and Fleetwood.

Climate change means fossil fuels must stay in the ground

Neither can the moral case be ignored. With everyone from Obama to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, now agreed that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground, and even the Pope stressing the urgent need for climate action, Labour should take a principled position to oppose fracking altogether on climate change grounds.

With the Paris climate talks looming, setting up a new fossil fuel industry when 80 per cent of the world’s existing reserves need to stay in the ground undermines attempts at climate action.

In Lancashire it is in Labour’s gift to keep fracking out of Britain; to take the side of residents, not the side of Osborne, Cameron, and Cuadrilla; to deliver for the local area; and help send a strong international message that fracking is not the answer.

Donna Hume is a political campaigner for Friends of the Earth. Follow her on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.