Councillors have refuted allegations they were “paid off” by an energy firm which wants to frack on the Fylde.
Three members of Fylde Council declared they had personally received payments from a contractor conducting seismic testing on behalf of Cuadrilla two years ago, ahead of a debate on fracking held on Monday evening.
Before the debate, nine other councillors declared a personal or prejudicial interest in the subject due to their membership of community groups, parish councils and other organisations which had received donations from Cuadrilla.
More than 80 members of the public packed in to the full council meeting, held at St Annes United Reformed Church Hall, to hear the debate – with many of them holding an anti-fracking demonstration beforehand.
During the debate two of the trio, Coun Tommy Threlfall and Coun Trevor Fiddler, left the room.
The third, Coun Heather Speak, remained and spoke in favour of a motion by Coun Liz Oades calling for a moratorium on fracking in the United Kingdom.
Coun Oades, an Independent, told the meeting: “This Government has a duty to keep the lights on and industry moving, but they also have a duty to our residents to ensure that everything is done in a safe and regulated manner.”
She added: “I urge those of you who care for our communities to support this notice of motion.
“There are applications for Roseacre and Little Plumpton, there could soon be one coming to a field near you.”
Cuadrilla has lodged planning applications with Lancashire County Council to drill test wells to see whether it would be viable to conduct fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock deep beneath the surface to release gas, at the two sites.
Seconding, Coun Speak said: “It is a very scary thing that is proposed before us and I’ve not been convinced by what I’ve heard from the regulators.
“People are really frightened, they’re frightened of the unknown.
“They’re scared of the potential for water contamination, air pollution and highway damage.”
The motion was defeated after an amendment was proposed by Coun Nigel Goodrich, from the ruling Conservative group, to note the work already undertaken by the authority’s shale gas working group (headed by Coun Threlfall, the council’s portfolio holder for the environment) in relation to concerns about health and safety surrounding the controversial process. Opposing that motion, Coun Keith Beckett, who also serves as chairman of the Willows
Social Club, in Kirkham, said: ”I know personally how Cuadrilla work. When they first came round the amount of bangs and things that happened in Kirkham, it lifted the dance floor and the lights on the stage.
“Cuadrilla said we could apply for a community grant to fix it, but if we’d have taken that we’d have been paid off like other people have been paid off.”
Coun Elaine Silverwood added: “We are absolutely here to protect the residents and our communities, and I’m appalled the Conservatives have put a political spin on it.
“After the declarations of interest at the beginning of the meeting I was really quite shocked and appalled that councillors have had to declare a personal and prejudicial interest, but what is worse is to hear that our portfolio holder for the environment had taken money from Cuadrilla.”
The ratified motion included a further amendment by Coun Kiran Mulholland requesting the Government ensures operational best practices were implemented “as a matter of urgency”.
Speaking to The Gazette after the meeting, Coun Threlfall explained he had allowed the firm on to his land to conduct seismic testing amid safety concerns arising from the 2011 earthquake.
He said: “They wanted to come across my land, and for that intrusion a small payment was made after. In my position I wouldn’t stand in the way of that safety data gathering.”
He added: “If you look back at the performance of our working group, we’ve done such a lot of work in the interests of safety. I’ve gone along to anti-fracking groups, listened to them and taken their concerns as seriously as I do any others.”
Coun Speak said: “It was a minimum payment to come across our garden for three-and-a-half weeks.
“You think you’re doing something innocent and it comes back to bite you.
“I’m very concerned by all the safety aspects of fracking.”
Coun Fiddler was unavailable for comment.
A spokesman for Cuadrilla said: “Cuadrilla sees itself as being part of the communities it operates within, and as part of this, is keen to make a contribution to community life in Lancashire.
“To provide support for those projects which matter most to the community, some funding is available during exploration activities.
“During the time of the 3D geophysical survey in 2012, Cuadrilla paid for rights to access land in rural Fylde to compensate landowners for any inconvenience caused by the temporary survey work.
“Because of the large area involved, around 500 individual agreements were agreed with landowners across around 100 square kilometres.
“Individual landowners were approached by our contractors because their land holdings matched the survey area and for no other reason.
“The results of the 3D survey have improved our understanding of the geology of Fylde, and have helped us to avoid faults as part of the series of measures intended to minimise the potential for future induced seismicity.”
Addressing the allegations made by Coun Beckett, the spokesman added: “Cuadrilla has previously been approached by the secretary of a Kirkham social club, Coun Keith Beckett, about damage to the club’s dance floor that he believed might be a result of Cuadrilla’s Geophysical Survey.
“Cuadrilla carried out an initial inspection and then appointed an independent surveyor to carry out a structural survey report.
“The surveyor concluded that the damage was not a result of Cuadrilla’s operations. This was communicated to Mr Beckett in November 2012.
“Coun Beckett was advised that if the club were to apply for a donation towards a new dance floor, this would be considered by Cuadrilla in common with other requests that we have received regarding community facilities in Fylde.