Police are making contingency plans to deal with mass protests as Lancashire looks poised to become the new battleground for anti-fracking activists.
Large numbers of protesters – including fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood –are expected to lobby County Hall in Preston tomorrow when councillors start to discuss Cuadrilla’s applications to frack for shale gas at two Lancashire sites.
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 – councillors should listen to their plea.Daisy Sands
The gas exploration firm wants to drill for shale gas at land off Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, and at Roseacre Wood, near Elswick.
County council officers have recommended that Preston New Road be approved – but that Roseacre Wood be rejected, mainly on the grounds of traffic problems.
But councillors will have the final say in meetings scheduled to go on for three to four days.
Environmental protesters 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 they say 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.”
A Lancashire police spokesman said today: “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.
“We will provide an appropriate policing response and ensure that there are suitable police resources in the area on the day and to police the rest of the county.
“When we are aware of planned protests, we always work with the organisers to facilitate a peaceful protest. Our role is a supportive one to ensure that the democratic process can run smoothly.
“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.”
Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Daisy Sands said: “Local activists will be out in numbers (tomorrow) 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 – councillors should listen to their plea.”
When the County Hall hearings were originally scheduled in January, there were major protests with activists travelling from as far away as London. The hearing was put back until the end of April – but then delayed again after Cuadrilla asked for time to overcome some of the objections raised by planning officers.
Fracking has attracted fierce protests – as witnessed in Balcombe in 2013, where the cost of policing protesters ran to around £4m.
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 LCC.
Meanwhile, elected officials in New York State, which banned fracking in December, have written to councillors in Lancashire to urge them to refuse the two planning 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.”