Fracking protesters vow to carry on roadside vigil

Fracking protest at Preston New Road

Fracking protest at Preston New Road

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It has become the latest battleground – but protesters have vowed they will not be moved at a fracking site on the Fylde come what may.

Around 40 local people were again at the site on Preston New Road at Little Plumpton to demonstrate their opposition to plans to drill for shale gas on a farmer’s field there.

Earlier this week there were minor scuffles as security guards and protesters clashed as security fencing was put in place.

An incident with a lorry almost hitting protesters also occurred and police were forced to close the A583 in both directions for a while to negotiate safety arrangements.

Protesters’ actions have drawn criticism from pro-shale groups resulting in a war of words on social media.

The pro-shale groups said the police should introduce a zero tolerance policy, but protesters blamed inexperienced security on site for the issues.

Today the campaigners said that even with an offer of a so-called “safe protest area” on the farmer’s land from Cuadrilla, which people would be directed to by the police, they will remain on the roadside every day.

Claire Stephenson, from the Preston New Road Action Group, said: “It has been a very peaceful protest today.

“We have carried out slow walk protests in front of the delivery trucks on the cordoned off area at the site and there have not been any repeat of the issues from yesterday.

“Investigations are going on into the incidents from yesterday. We are not holding up traffic.”

She said they had been receiving constant support from passing motorists and members of the public.

When asked if things became more heated at the site or if outside protesters came to take part in mass protests, she said that as a group the Preston New Road people did not condone any illegal behaviour and would continue with their own protest.

She said: “With regard to a safe area, this was an idea mooted by the police six months ago. It is just a way of corralling protesters.

“It is up to other people how they want to protest but we would prefer to make ours here at the roadside using peaceful methods.”

Tina Rothery, from the Lancashire Nanas anti-fracking group , was present during the scuffles and said she intervened when protesters were caught behind a reversing delivery lorry on Tuesday.

She said: “Lancashire Police have been wonderful.

“I think the security guards at the start were ill-prepared for a protest site, which caused the issues.

“There have been no problems today unlike when the lorry almost reversed into protesters. We had to bang on the windows and climb on it to get it to stop.

“The police negotiated a safe and sensible way to let people protest.”

She said trucks going to the site to help build an access road, were being held up behind the safety barrier while protesters walked slowly in front of them to delay them as a protest.

But she rejected plans for a safe protest area.

She said: “By telling us where we are allowed to protest it would mean other places were not permitted.

“We prefer to do peaceful protest our way.”

She said the local people were getting tremendous support.

She said: “We posted our video of what happened on line. It got something like 1,000 views.

“Then through social media it got picked up by Bianca Jagger and by that night had been seen by more than 100,000 people. It went viral and as a result we have seen people coming here today to offer help.”

She said some members from outside groups had turned up but after talking to the locals were happy to go with their wishes not to escalate protests.

However, some at the protest site wanted more support from members of the public and elsewhere to more effectively disrupt the construction of the fracking site.

John Tootill from nearby Maple Farm said: “The problem is they are still getting their work done. It is heartwarming to see so many local people giving up their time to make their views known here and show their opposition to fracking.

“They are doing it in all weathers. But if others and other groups want to come and add their support they will be most welcome. It is the ordinary people who will be affected if fracking spreads across the county and the country.”

But gas exploration company Cuadrilla, which wants to drill and frack four horizontal wells on the site once the well pad about the size of a rugby pitch is completed, said that work was progressing despite the protests.

They said that the police were responsible for protesters outside the site and that the site boundary was from the coned off lane where the temporary traffic lights were to the field where people did not have the right to be under site safety regulations.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Outside of our permitted work area it is the police who are responsible for health and safety of protesters and as some were in the main road the police decided to close the road yesterday for 15 minutes which we are aware delayed some local journeys.

“We are working with the police to keep the area safe and ensure that traffic on the main road is not blocked. Whilst some truck deliveries to our site are taking longer, our work continues as planned.”

Pro-fracking group Backing Fracking blasted the protesters over the scuffles earlier in the week. They said irresponsible behaviour had resulted in the main road being closed for 15 minutes and could have hampered emergency services.

A spokesman said: “Despite assurances to the contrary, activists are prepared to cause disruption to ordinary road users and local residents by going beyond ‘peaceful rolling roadside protests’.

“Not only that, but in forcing the closure of the road, their actions could have put lives in danger - the A583 is part of Lancashire’s strategic road network and is used by the North West Ambulance Service in reaching “blue light” emergencies.

“It is targeted to attend 75 per cent of Category A Red 1 calls (the most time critical, where patients are not breathing or don’t have a pulse) within 8 minutes.

“It is not an overstatement to say that a 15-minute closure of a major local trunk road could make the difference between life and death.

“Risking their own safety for a publicity stunt is one thing; risking the lives of other Lancashire residents is something else altogether.”

The spokesman said: “As for the dedicated protest area, that sounds like a very responsible idea from Cuadrilla that would enable protesters to continue demonstrating but in a manner that doesn’t endanger the protesters themselves, workers, other road users or those who could be affected by delays to ambulances and other emergency services.”