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County Council 'considers action' against Cuadrilla traffic plan breech. But can it cope while its Leader is under police investigation?


Truck surfing protester delays Cuadrilla fracking equipment for third day at Preston New Road
Truck surfing protester delays Cuadrilla fracking equipment for third day at Preston New Road
Chris Satori

Yesterday, Thursday 27 July, at 4.15am, Cuadrilla Security and the police brought a heavy convoy of trucks into the site on Preston New Road where Cuadrilla are attempting to set up the UK's first hydraulic fracturing site. This was in breach of their agreed Traffic Management Plan (TMP), through which they secured the Secretary of State's consent to operate, despite the objections of Lancashire County Council. 

The convoy required the use of both lanes of the public highway, and police are alleged to have claimed to protesters at the time that they had the County Council's consent for this variation to the conditions of the TMP. Later in the day the County Council made it clear that no such consent had been given and that they had not been informed of this operation at all. 

Lancs County Council in turmoil

Lancashire County Council is currently in turmoil over the Conservative majority's decision to appoint the controversial Geoff Driver as its Leader. Driver is currently out on bail until August 23, pending further police enquiries relating to allegations of financial irregularities in the tendering of a £5m contract with One Connect Ltd, a joint venture between the council and BT to run some local authority services (into the ground). Driver is alleged to have authorised payments totalling over £500,000 to David McElhinney, the boss of One Connect, without the County Treasurer's knowledge. These were on top of the Council paying McElhinney a £40,000pa salary plus £69,700 for his National Insurance Contributions.

Inspired by Trump?

Earlier this month, perhaps inspired by Donald Trump's antics, Driver banned the Council's Chief Executive and four other officers from briefings he attends. He alleged that otherwise they might compromise police evidence. Now he plans a shock restructuring which would remove the current Chief Exec altogether (the one he worked with previously is also on bail). This chaos means that the Council cannot function democratically as it should, and it makes a mockery of the entire structure of the organisation that its key personnel must operate under such compromising and acrimonious restrictions.  No part of these decisions have been made with the welfare of Lancashire people in mind, which is the very foundation stone of the Council's existence. The solution lies in the hands of the Conservative majority. It may be a difficult decision, but the Council, which faces bankrupcy within 2 years on its current trajectory, has been making a lot of difficult decisions recently when evaluating the needs of vulnerable residents, and cutting their services. 

Weakness at the top

The County Council has said it is 'considering action' against Cuadrilla, but it has faced the many pressing challenges of the time by crippling itself.  And the government has made it clear at every point that the way must be made smooth for the heavily taxpayer-subsidised Cuadrilla; Councils who make obstacles find their decisions overruled and their powers removed.

While such a vacuum of leadership continues, predatory forces will always seek advantage, and Cuadrilla could be a template for such forces. The fact that they now have co-opted the supervising Police Authority to openly act illegally for them demonstrates the influence they hold. This is the natural outcome of a situation in which police have already been groomed into a pattern of acting together with Cuadrilla security operatives on the public highway (where Cuadrilla security has no authority at all)  in using excessive and brutal violence on peaceful protesters. The exception to the rule is the North Wales police, who have refused to supply officers to Lancashire to support this pointless exercise. (Wales does not permit fracking). Today we hear of a crane driver protesting at being held involuntarily on the site by the police because his company, who claim to have been subcontracted under false pretences, want to pull their gear out. 

Protesters have been sitting on top of Cuadrilla trucks on the Preston New Road for three days now, in all weathers. They do this with the intention of protecting Lancashire people, our welfare our environment, and our rights. It's time we saw some comparable commitment from our elected leaders, in both local and national government, and in our Police Authority. 

England only country in UK and Europe to permit fracking

England is the only country in the UK and Europe which still permits fracking - despite the earth tremors that resulted in Lancashire the very first time time it was attempted here in 2011. In every other country in the UK and Europe where fracking has been proposed, it has been banned because of the risks it has been proven to pose to public health and the environment.