County councillors have called for Lancashire Police to be fully reimbursed for the estimated £7m cost of policing the Preston New Road fracking site since construction activity began almost two years ago. It also condemned “recent unlawful protest actions”.
But while there was cross-party support for the proposal at a meeting of Lancashire County Council, division remained over the nature of the protests at the gates of the Cuadrilla operation in Little Plumpton.
Conservative member Edward Nash told members that the right to peaceful protest was “won with blood and tears”.
“But in Lancashire, that right is being abused,” he said. “The people of Fylde are heartily sick of the capering antics of what is described as a ‘rent-a-crowd which disrupts traffic daily – and the seeming indifference of Lancashire Police to treat it properly.
“The law continues to be broken with impunity by the protestors – they put lives at risk by delaying the passage of emergency vehicles. Many complain that police are slow to act and quick to stop traffic, “ County Cllr Nash said.
But independent councillor Liz Oades told the meeting that the busy A583 (Preston New Road) had been closed more by flooding than protesting over the last twelve months.
And Green Party member Gina Dowding said she wanted to “nail the absolute lie” that protestors had ever sought to block the passage of blue-light vehicles.
“There is no agenda from the protestors to create any traffic delay – if you were there, you would see the support from traffic going past,” County Cllr Dowding said, before adding a supported amendment recommending that police undergo “adequate” training to ensure their own health and safety and that of the public.
County Cllr Nash said he resented being called a lair by someone “who has been convicted of unlawful activity on Preston New Road – and who lives in an ivory tower in Lancaster.” County Cllr Dowding was convicted of obstruction after a so-called “lock-on” protest last year.
Lancashire Constabulary was given a £1.4m grant by the government in 2017/18 towards the cost of its operation in Little Plumpton. The force says the total cost to date is £7m, but the Home Office calculates that only £4m can be classed as “additional” – rather than the redeployment of officers who are already on duty elsewhere.
A spokesperson for Lancashire Police said: “Our approach to policing the site is all about balancing the rights of people to protest, the rights of Cuadrilla and suppliers to go about their lawful business and the rights of local traders and residents to go about their business with our prime concern the safety of all concerned.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw, who has regularly called for extra funding to cover the cost of patrolling anti-fracking protests, added: “The policing operation on Preston New Road is in place to ensure public safety on what is a very busy and vital route.
“Officers at the fracking site are caught between competing demands of facilitating peaceful protest and allowing companies to conduct their lawful business, as well as keeping an important emergency services route open.
“Where people do have concerns about the actions of the police, there is a robust complaints procedure in place, overseen by myself. Anyone who is unhappy with the outcome of the complaints process has the right to appeal to the independent body the IOPC.”