|A number of people have asked me, in the aftermath of the historic decision by the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee last week, how this was achieved.
There are a number of key elements that I feel contributed to this success.
- The campaign was fronted by a grass-roots protest group of local concerned residents – The Vale Says No!
- This group in itself was fronted by a tenacious and articulate young lady who became the identifiable figurehead and spokesperson for the campaign. (‘The Erin Brokovich of the Vale’)
- There was access to a reasonable level of technical understanding of the fracking process that helped keep the focus on the truly important aspects and avoid some of the red herrings.
- The active members of the campaign group were all well-educated, willing to learn and well connected.
- Key local politicians were courted from an early stage, and getting support from across the political spectrum certainly helped.
- Local media (press, TV and radio) were kept fully informed so that they knew they could follow an evolving story. Relationships were fostered with key journalists.
- A series of public meetings in all the surrounding communities were held – and were well promoted and well attended. They were grounded in an explanation of what is known and what is not known; were not allowed to become scare-mongering exercises; and had a degree of credibility, as a result, that opponents struggled to counter.
- The campaign engaged with the planning process and the local planners from an early stage, with the Wales context offering the opportunity to request the calling in of the application, away from the local authority, to the Welsh Government. Although this was turned down, it yielded good media coverage and also opened up the debate about how the planning system as it stands is unsuitable to deal with this sort of proposal. This was ultimately very telling, in my opinion.
- Raising public awareness was a constant challenge, but all avenues were utilised – the media, posters, banners, tee shirts, leafleting, use of social media (esp Facebook), stalls at events. Getting the public support of a huge, respected brand name such as the Co-operative, with real tangible involvement from them locally, was a huge boost
- Every opportunity was taken to present and disseminate telling expert testimony – Ingraffea, Colborn, Newsnight, the Ecology Unit, and of course, Gasland – especially to the decision-makers; the councillors on the planning and scrutiny committees.
- Equally, every opportunity was taken to challenge and discredit the arguments and information offered by the proponents e.g. The potential reserves and jobs, the make up of frack fluid, the soundness of their precautions, the safety record of the related industries etc.
- Certain lines of argument proved particularly telling with the decision-makers. Most telling, I believe, was the lack of any bespoke planning framework, or guidelines even, for this sort of fossil fuel exploitation. Having this conceded by the Environment Agency and Coastal Oil & Gas themselves really grabbed the attention of these councillors. The Vale Councillors, including Leader Cllr Kemp very publicly, recognised that their approval of this industry could well be letting an evil genie out of the bottle with no way of effectively controlling it and no chance of getting it back in the bottle once it was out. They rightly realised that the Welsh Government and Westminster were effectively passing the buck and likely to make them the scapegoats when the inevitable calamities start to happen.
- The other line of argument that seemed to resonate with the councillors was the sound logic behind our argument that test drilling applications should not be considered in isolation. They are simply the first step in an integrally linked set of stages to full production. If there is no chance of allowing subsequent stages, there is no point in allowing the first stage. History tells us that the other side will force through the counter-argument; that if you allow them to invest huge resources in stage one, you cannot waste all that investment by not allowing the subsequent stages. The Vale Councillors accepted this argument against the advice of their Planning Officer, whose tick box sheets presumably cannot cope with big picture thinking.
- Most of the more obvious environmental issues were not in themselves central, in my opinion. Every development before a planning committee has environmental consequences. They listen to environmental objections all the time, but let things through in the belief that their Planners and the Environmental Agency know enough to ensure that these consequences are manageable and controllable. The above lines of argument shattered this confidence, in my opinion.
- Some good fortune. Getting before a scrutiny committee just a few days before the decision was priceless. The withdrawal of the original application on a small technicality bought us crucial extra time. I am convinced the Planning Committee would have passed the application first time round. Your good fortune is having having the ‘LLANDOW PRECEDENT’ to draw on – to demonstrate that the set procedures and conventional are not inalienable in the face of reasonable arguments, backed by sound evidence, and delivered with repeated conviction.
If I had to distil all this down to my TOP FIVE TIPS for success, I would say:
- Ensure the campaign is perceived as truly spontaneous grass-roots opposition.
- Have ONE consistent spokesperson who can become the face of the campaign – with passion and commitment as their main virtues.
- Focus on the arguments that will impact the most on the decision-makers – which requires having people involved that can guide you on these.
- Foster relationships with the relevant councillors, key local politicians (from across the political spectrum) and all the media links you can muster to allow you to punch well above your weight.
- Never ever get involved in scare mongering. What we know and what we don’t know is perfectly scary enough and needs no embellishing. Scare mongering simply serves to discredit the campaign and reduce the likelihood of success.
So where do these lessons need to be disseminated to?
The areas licensed for exploration are shown on this map:
The grid is the O.S. National grid that relates to any Ordnance Survey map.
The PEDL licenses are based on crude 10km squares of the OS grid.
Using this map, I have identified the following places that need to sit up and take notice of the fracking threat: