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Thousands to protest against fracking in Lancashire


From his bedroom Rod Knight can see the field which campaigners claim could be the first commercial fracking site in Britain.

Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer three years ago and after a lifetime in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, he says he is not a natural protester. But he does fear the arrival of energy company Cuadrilla and the potentially devastating impact it might have on his kennels business, his life and his property which he believes had already suffered cracks as a result of tests in the area.

“I’m not looking forward to having a drilling rig across the road and having lights on all night. It will distress the animals which will create noise. I know there’s a lot of protest going on but I believe big business will always win,” he said.  “I feel quite sick,” he adds. “It’s just another worry.”

This weekend more than 1,000 opponents of fracking – the process of capturing natural gas from shale rocks using high pressure water, sand and chemicals – are expected to set up camp on the meadows off Preston New Road in Lancashire’s Fylde.

In the distance the high rollercoaster of The Big One on Blackpool Pleasure Beach can be seen. Around the site there is a small village and a number of rural businesses.

The arrival of national campaign group Reclaim the Power, in support of local mothers and grandmothers who have been occupying the field since last week, has been dismissed by Cuadrilla as unwanted.

After a weekend of workshops the protesters will march on Blackpool in a show of support for local people before embarking on two days of direct action likely to be targeted at the energy company’s assets.

In anticipation Cuadrilla has deployed a number of security guards to occupy a neighbouring field, using the same Section Six squatting rights normally used by opponents. They have also erected a 5m mast with a CCTV camera permanently trained on the protest camp.

Mother-of-one Ebony Ava Johnson of Frack Free Lancashire rejects the suggestion that local people welcome the arrival of Cuadrilla – not least after test operations were linked to a series of earth tremors on the Fylde in 2011.

“A year ago there were only three groups in the country. Now we have an alliance of 20 in Lancashire alone. It has grown phenomenally and public awareness is growing which is consistent with figures that show support for fracking is just 24 per cent,” she said.

Groups on the Fylde fear that fracking will cause a toxic cocktail of chemicals to be released into the atmosphere, pollute ground water supplies and result in thousands of wells leading to the industrialisation of the peninsula – claims rejected by Cuadrilla.

The Government is fiercely supportive of the industry and Chancellor George Osborne has slashed tax rates for drillers claiming on-shore shale gas could create 60,000 jobs and reduce Britain’s reliance on energy imports.

A three-month public consultation on plans to allow companies to drill under people’s homes without permission ended this week but are now likely to face a legal challenge from environmentalists.

Local businessman Bob Dennett said the industry sought to portray those who opposed fracking as either Nimbys or professional activists, neither of which was true.

“We are just regular people who are fighting for this. I am nearly 70 and I have never been involved in anything like this in my life but I will carry on opposing this to protect my grandchildren everyone else,” he said. 

Among those making their way to the Fylde this weekend are representatives of the community at Balcombe who spent much of last summer opposing Cuadrilla’s plans in West Sussex.

Emma Hughes of Reclaim the Power said 14,000 people in Blackpool had signed a petition opposing drilling. She sought to reassure local businesses and said no direct of action would not be targeted against them but at Cuadrilla and other fracking-related sites across the country.

Lancashire County Council is expected to meet in November to decide whether to grant planning permission for drilling to commence at two sites near the resort.

In a statement Cuadrilla, which has the option to lease the land should it get permission, said: “We believe there is absolutely no requirement and little local support for the protest and the illegal occupation of land being farmed by a local farmer, disrupting his business and family in the process. We understand the landowner is in the process of instructing lawyers to commence legal proceedings to recover possession of his land.”