Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Are you pro or anti fracking? Come to the debate Forest Hills Frodsham tonight

'Are you pro or anti- fracking?' is one of those questions that journalists and campaigners use to try and divide people and politicians at the moment.  I was posed a very similar question by David Holmes of the Chronicle earlier this afternoon.

The answer I gave him, is the same response I will give tonight at the debate being held by Frodsham and Kingsely Transition Initiatives at Forest Hills, Frodsham.

'I am neither pro nor anti fracking - I am pragmatist on the side of my community.'

It is both Conservative and Labour Party policy to seek to exploit shale gas and shale oil reserves if at all possible.  Both parties also accept, as indeed does industry and the regulators, that if fracking is to take place it can only happen if it can be done safely - without harm to human health, wildlife and the environment and if there is significant community consent.

For my part I go further.

Without safety and proper protection for human health, wildlife and the environment during all stages of the proposed operation - forget it.  I'm not interested and I would oppose any development proposals where safety at all levels wasn't properly guaranteed.

Secondly, and crucially of all - forget fracking unless there is significant community consent - perhaps demonstrated through a local referendum on a neighbourhood plan or if the community itself could decide whether or not to grant planning permission.

When weighing up the arguments on fracking one has to think of the local jobs and industry tied up with the petrochemical industry in our part of the world and their need for cheaper energy.  Will the UK petrochemical industry survive the onslaught of cheap US shale gas production over the next 10 years?  Can we strike the right balance though?

No community wants to be the 'guinea pig' nor indeed in my view to the people who take these decisions really think about the locals.

But the track record doesn't look good...

Think about all the recent major decisions in and around the Mersey Estuary where local opinion has been effectively ignored eg.-

  • Ince Resource Recovery Park - with its two incinerators given planning consent by a Labour Secretary of State;
  • Frodsham Marshes Windfarm - given planning consent by a Lib-Dem Secretary of State;
  • The incinerator at Ineos to burn Greater Manchester's Waste - granted consent by Halton Borough Council
If any of us had been given a real influence on the decision making I'm sure most of us would have said 'No' to each of these development proposals.  However if industry and the regulators were compelled to explain their cases to us all who knows what the answers would be.  That's why I'm arguing for a much greater say for local communities as a whole.  For something to be safe it must be demonstrably safe and explained in a way that everyone can understand - and everyone can feel part of the decision making process. 

I think industry has become separated from the local communities on which they depend.  Also I think our regulators are no longer trusted.  These issues also form part of the underlying community concerns.

So I'm not a cheerleader for fracking.  I can see the benefits, but I can also see the risks and legitimate concerns. I am a cheerleader for my community, for a community that wants and needs cheaper energy and good jobs - but that is not at any price.  If it can't be done safely - forget it.  If you can't get community support - forget it.

I'm looking forward to a lively debate tonight.