An unprecedented 25,000 representations have been made as campaigners gear up for a final battle to persuade county councillors to refuse planning permission for fracking on the Fylde coast.
It is the largest number of responses to a single application at the authority – and a Lancashire County Council (LCC)spokesman confirmed the large majority were objections.
Councillors will meet to hear some verbal representations on January 23, before a meeting on January 28 to decide whether or not to allow the process to go ahead at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton and Roseacre.
At the meeting on January 28, more people may speak, and the meeting could run into a second day.
Opposition to energy company Cuadrilla’s plans to drill, frack and test for gas flow at sites near Little Plumpton and Roseacre say that this is a crucial time for people in the county to make their views known on the controversial issue.
They fear fracking – the deep drilling process to release shale gas – could damage the environment through pollution of air and water, and change the nature of rural Fylde forever.
However, some businesses have expressed support for fracking, saying it will create thousands of jobs and provide tax revenue and energy security for the country.
But Defend Lytham’s Ed Cook said: “There’s more than 20,000 people who have written to the council objecting from what I understand – it’s the single biggest statement LCC has ever had on one subject.
“The major thing we need to do is make sure people aren’t repeating points, and we need to make sure our objections are tied to planning reasons, not just a dislike of fracking, or fears over anything like house prices.”
Cuadrilla will also make representations.
People living in the Roseacre area are staging a meeting tonight at 7pm at Elswick Village Hall.
Barbara Richardson, from the Roseacre Awareness group, said: “This is not intended to be a debate on shale gas, but a meeting for local residents to bring them up-to-date on what we are doing and our next steps.
“Things are ramping up. I have gone from meeting to meeting and phone calls in between. Never did I imagine this, when I started looking into fracking impacts.”
She said protesters were particularly concerned about the Government’s Infrastructure Bill currently going through the public committee stage in Westminster, which she said would change trespass law to allow fracking to take place deep beneath people’s homes without their permission, and allow fracking companies to leave waste fluids and material in the ground afterwards.
The issue has caused controversy, as one of the documents MPs wanted to use to oppose the bill, a report into the impact of fracking by DEFRA, had been heavily censored so that MPs did not know the content.
Patricia Davies, from the Preston New Road Action Group, said: “We are outraged, and concerned this bill is an attempt by the Government to erode anyone’s rights.”
Helen Rimmer, from Lancashire Friends of the Earth, said several events would be held to show the strength of opposition to fracking. She said: “Frack Free Lancashire and local Friends of the Earth groups will be holding events across the county to demonstrate the overwhelming opposition to fracking in the county, and encourage anyone who wants to protect our environment and communities from risky fracking to contact their county councillor and share their concerns.
She added there would be gathering outside County Hall in Preston on January 21 and outside the council HQ again on January 28 and 29.
A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “We are looking forward to our applications being determined at the end of this month.
“We know shale gas exploration and extraction can be carried out in the UK safely, securely and in an environmental responsible way, and we will do that.
“The development of a shale gas industry has the potential to bring significant investment, community benefits and opportunities for local people and the North West and UK economies.”