Saturday, 22 October 2016

The frack-free 'Community Survey'

Lynn and I have been invited to attend the count of the Frack Free Frodsham and Helsby survey on Saturday 22 October.  It is our intention to attend.  The event is likely to prove interesting - although I do wonder just how informative and useful it will ultimately prove to be.

I have been told in writing that a 'simple questionnaire' has been hand delivered to 1,500 residents in Frodsham and 1,200 in Helsby.  Quite how or why these figures have been chosen or what they represent remains to be seen.

For example in Frodsham we have a population around 9,500.  Helsby's population is about half of Frodsham's.  If the survey is to be representative of all of Frodsham and Helsby a further 900 residents should have been surveyed in Frodsham so as to maintain the relative proportions between the communities.

My household received one of the survey forms - a week after an anti-fracking leaflet was distributed.
Regardless of what you think vis a vis fracking - the credibility of any survey and crucially if it is to carry any weight and reflect the views of local residents with developers, planners, councils and perhaps ultimately the planning inspectorate and Government Ministers - then bias is a dangerous thing.  I don't think it was a good idea to distribute an anti-fracking leaflet house to house the week before the survey is handed round.

Now I make these remarks as someone who wants to ensure that the public is given the decisive say in any controversial planning applications such as for fracking.  This has been my position for several years and it was on this basis that Lynn and I were re-elected in 2015.  It is also the policy of the opposition Conservative Group on the Borough Council.

I know that in the planning process poorly conducted surveys will either be ignored or exposed for being flawed.  That's why Lynn and I are committed to calling a formal parish poll if a planning application for fracking is received.  A parish poll is a rarely used form of local referendum conducted for a parish by the Borough Council.  Those wishing to take part in the parish poll will have to attend a polling station to register their views.

I've attached below a copy of the survey forms I received.  Incidentally the came through my letter box crumpled!

I have to say the question 'Do you think it would be a good thing or a bad thing is Shale Gas 'Fracking' takes place in Frodsham and Helsby' is too simplistic.

The issues about shale gas exploration and extraction can't really be summed up that way as anyone who attended the local debates organised by Frodsham Transition Initiative and our MP Graham Evans MP will no doubt agree.

I expect no one would support anything that would cause pollution - and everyone I envisage would support the UK having energy security and access to  essential chemical feedstocks.  However the issues are much more nuanced than just being a 'good idea' or a 'bad idea' in my view.

I'm also concerned that the survey only allows one family member to represent the views of other family members.  Every elector in a parish poll has to cast their vote themselves.

You may also notice that my survey form has the letters FH36 on the top right hand corner and that the postcode had to be added to the response form too.

This is clearly not an anonymous survey.  Someone will be able to trace FH36 and the answers that were provided - in this instance by my wife.  I wonder how she characterised my views and whether she wrote anything in for the views of our children all of whom are away at University?  She did tell me that two people called at the house on separate occasions and that they were most insistent that she provided answers.

Of course these issues necessarily raise questions of what the resultant information is going to be used for.  There are a whole host of Data Protection issues that necessarily arise too.  What is going to happen to survey form FH36 after this exercise?  How many were distributed to my postcode?

Now fracking policy is very much on the local political agenda at the moment.

Labour controlled CWaC, notwithstanding its unlawful election manifesto policy of banning fracking in the Borough (please see earlier blog posts explaining how the Borough Solicitor had to advise Labour about its unlawful policy) is now devising policy that will permit fracking to take place here.

I have table several amendments to their proposed policies - on each occasion seeking to tighten them and to provide greater protection for the environment and human health as well as by seeking to ensure a decisive say in such applications for the local community.  Whilst some of my amendments have been accepted not all of them have been.

Labour controlled CWaC consulted on these planning policies over the summer.  If you look at the council's local plan website today (18 October) you'll see that not one single Labour Councillor commented on any planning policy proposals.  I know that at least 18 Conservative councillors did so.

A Special Planning Document providing further planning guidance for those seeking planning permission for fracking has also just been published by Labour controlled CWaC.  In my view, again this does not go far enough in terms of providing protection for the environment and the local community etc.  I tabled amendments to this too - and again some were accepted - but not as many as should have been.

We live in interesting times - at the moment.  Not everything is what it seems to be.

You may wonder why I've raised party politics about this survey?  Well it is a known Labour activist that is one of the key promoters of the survey - seemingly at odds with what his party is doing on the Borough Council.