Jim Ratcliffe, newly crowned by The Sunday Times as the richest man in Britain, is being given a run for his money by a vibrant anti-fracking campaign in North East Derbyshire, writes Peter Allen. Ratcliffe is the founder and principal shareholder of INEOS and wants to undertake fracking on green belt land near Eckington, in the hope of obtaining a cheap source of gas for his chemical plants.
‘JR’ has been unable to persuade the local community that fracking would not only be in his own financial interest but would also benefit the local economy and society .Frustrated by what he considered to be an unreasonable delay on the part of Derbyshire County Council in responding to his request for planning permission for an ‘ exploratory well’, he appealed directly to his friends in government. Planning permission is no longer being left to locally elected politicians. Instead there is to be a public inquiry to consider the proposal, beginning in Chesterfield on June 19th. Anti fracking campaigners are hoping for a large turnout from protesters on that day.
The need to consider more than 2000 objections to the proposal may have contributed to any delay on the part of the Tory controlled county council. When they finally considered the application at a planning committee meeting in early February ,councillors had to do so in front of an audience of local residents/ voters, around 100 in total, who were there to express their opposition to any idea of fracking in the area. Although the audience was well behaved and respectful councillors can have been in no doubt about the strength of feeling on the issue. They should also have been aware of the outcome of a survey of those who attended INEOS presentations in the area. The survey found no-one in favour of the proposals and 86% of respondents firmly against.
Twenty three people were listed to speak at the committee in opposition to the plan, including the recently elected Tory MP Lee Rowley. Local Labour Councillor Diane Charles, accused INEOS of acting disingenuously and the government of undermining local democracy in an attempt to gag local people. Representatives of local anti fracking groups presented well researched evidence suggesting that INEOS had grossly underestimated the noise and traffic impact of the proposal ( there would be thousands of HGV travelling along narrow roads ) and advised that they had received confirmation from the planning officer that the statistics provided by the company had not been independently checked. Speakers included a former government statistician who summarised the case against– a local community was being asked to accept increased noise and traffic pollution in order to allow INEOS to extract cheap gas, which they would use to make plastic.
At the end of the meeting a motion was proposed by a Labour member to reject the recommendation of the officer’s report and to oppose the planning application at the forthcoming public inquiry. Only the chair of the committee voted against the motion, out of what he said was loyalty to his officers. However he was anxious to make the point that INEOS, who had attended the meeting but not requested to speak, had behaved disgracefully.
The vote was greeted by loud applause and means that a Tory led County Council will be joining Eckington Against Fracking in opposing the proposal at the forthcoming enquiry, employing the services of a QC and expert witnesses in doing so.
David Kesteven from Eckington Against Fracking was understandably jubilant about the outcome of the vote and the success of the campaign so far. He explained that the campaign had made a tactical decision on issues which they hoped could persuade Conservative councillors to vote against the expressed wishes of a Conservative Government. These issues were the unacceptable increase in traffic and noise nuisance and the adverse environmental impact in what was a green belt area. The strategy had been a resounding success and in no way detracted from the belief of the campaigners that a central reason for opposing the plan was the threat of runaway climate change, which fracking would do nothing to avert.
The fight is not over of course and whatever the outcome of the enquiry, (scheduled to last 8 days over 2 weeks with a decision within 3 months) opposition to fracking in North East Derbyshire and elsewhere will undoubtedly continue. Victory is by no means certain but the signs are looking good.
Power to the People.
The local Labour Party is strongly against fracking and several members are involved in the local campaign group, which is non party political. Unfortunately the Labour MP in the area had not clearly opposed fracking, in contrast to her Tory opponent, something which probably contributed to her defeat at the 2017 General Election. She is now employed as a consultant….by INEOS !
The newly selected PPC, Chris Peace, supports the local and national anti fracking position of the party.