Mass anti-fracking rally at Preston New Road

21 October 2018

by Janet Russell

There were many more people at this rally than were expected. We were ushered into the Maple Farm arrival area by well organised stewards, and the parking space allotted to the event filled up very quickly. Not an unpleasant problem to have, the organisers happily said. People arriving later were directed to the nearby B&Q car park.

An interesting programme of speakers reminded us of how much the profile of the anti-fracking community had been lifted into mainstream media in the last couple of weeks - with the IPCC announcement on the dire climate emergency we are in and the “Frack Free Three” being released from prison on appeal - and how much support the anti-fracking community now has. Our numbers and persistence are our strength.

Chris Danby of the PNR campaign group introduced the speakers, with representation from Roseacre Wood, likely to be Cuadrilla’s next fracking site. Tina Louise Rothery, who has documented the Preston New Road campaign from the beginning, spoke next, then came Helen Rimmer from Friends of the Earth.

speakers at the PNR rally
Chris Danby of the PNR campaign group, Helen Rimmer from Friends Of The Earth and the representative for Roseacre Wood (name unknown)

Of particular interest and hope was Estelle Dehon, the lawyer who represented Friends of the Earth in the 2016 enquiry. She had also been defending the Druridge Bay campaigners last week in their campaign against open cast mining. She said that the Secretary of State had made an announcement whilst giving evidence to the court, that the government now attaches greater importance to greenhouse gases. In previous cases arguments have been made about the level of greenhouse gases not being of great importance. The Secretary of State said “Energy security is now looked at through the prism of renewables”. Estelle Dehon asserted that the government will be held to this by the courts of law.

Lawyer Estelle Dehon speaking
Lawyer Estelle Dehon speaking

Two union speakers followed, making rousing speeches asserting “The welfare of the people is the highest law” and for the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union, clean, safe water is of the highest importance, being vital to their work. Colin Watson from Frack Free Chester spoke about having changed the Council to a frack free policy, and having likewise changed the attitudes of 3 MPs. Peter Allen from Frack Free Ryedale remarked that Mark Wilson of the Aviva insurance company, who earns his living assessing risk, had warned 2 years ago that we needed to stop using fossil fuels.

Sebastien Kelly from 350 degrees read out a statement from the Stanstead 15, currently in court on terrorist charges. They are in total solidarity with the Frack Free Three who were recently released on appeal, their sentences being cited as “manifestly excessive”. The Stanstead 15 locked on to the front wheel of a plane which was deporting immigrants who came to the UK fleeing danger in their own countries. First charged with aggravated trespass charges, these were changed to anti-terrorism charges, a more serious offence. There is a gathering in Chelmsford in support of the Stanstead 15 on Monday 5th November.

The crowd that had gathered at Maple Farm then processed to the area around the gates of the PNR fracking site, where there were more speakers, including Richard Roberts, Rich Loizou and Simon Roscoe Blevins, the three activists freed from jail on appeal. Amelia Womack, our deputy leader, spoke for the Green Party, there was a statement from the media officer of Liberty about the right to protest including acts which inconvenience others, and a call to attend a Reclaim the Power event in Sheffield on 10th and 11th November.

Green Party members at the rally
The Green Party representatives in this group picture include the co-ordinator of the Yorkshire and Humberside Green Party, Ann Forsaith (front left), members of Stockton Green Party, Martin Hemingway, Elections Officer for Yorkshire and Humberside, Amelia Womack, the national party's Deputy Leader (front right), and our own Caroline on the left at the back.

Whilst processing, many of us sang anti-fracking songs to well known tunes which, along with the sunshine kept the mood buoyant and cheeky. Many discussed the quandary of how to decide whether to go to London for the march for a People’s Vote on Brexit, or to come to Preston New Road – we were rewarded with the news that the London march was huge. The Green Party was well represented at both.

Janet Russell Caroline Whitaker
Keighley and Ilkley Green Party officers Janet Russell and Caroline Whitaker