Calls have been made for an urgent independent review into the ballooning policing costs surrounding fracking, as a new report says officers’ aggressive and confrontational tactics are damaging their relationship with the public.
The report, Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime, by the human rights group Netpol, looked at the operations at fracking sites across the country over the past year.
It criticised the size, scale and tactics of policing operations, with costs to the Lancashire force since January estimated between £6m and £8m.
The figures have sparked warnings the county can no longer afford to continue to shoulder the burden of paying the bill.
Green MEP, Keith Taylor, said the costs incurred by the force was ‘not sustainable or sensible’.
And pro-fracking group Lancashire for Shale said it is time for the Government to step in, saying: “It cannot be right for the council taxpayers of Lancashire to bear the burden of what is essentially a national protest.”
Lancashire Police says its response has always been ‘consistent, co-ordinated and proportionate’.
An appeal made back in the spring by Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw (below) pleading with Government to help cover the cost of the policing operation have so far received no reply, his office said.
Around 150 protesters gathered at the Preston New Road fracking site yesterday for the launch of the NetPol report, which makes claims of breaches of fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Around 300 arrests linked to protests at the site have been made.
It also expressed concern that many members of the public saw the police as helping shale gas exploration company Cuadrilla in its bid to extract gas from deep lying shale rocks across Lancashire, or being influenced by the industry, rather than remaining independent.
With Cuadrilla set to drill horizontally into the shale and then frack before spring next year, as well as a public inquiry over the firm’s plans to drill a second new site at Roseacre Wood, there appears to be no end in sight to the protests and the rocketing costs of policing the industry.
New figures show the cost of policing fracking between January and July was £3.25m, with costs expected to rise over the summer.
Figures from the Green Party – based on information supplied by Mr Grunshaw and Baroness Vere of Norbiton – estimate the cost now stands at close to £8m.
But supporters of the shale gas industry said today that Cuadrilla had the right to go about its lawful business and if the protesters were not there, or carrying out unlawful direct action, the policing cost would not be so high.
They also said there was no need for an expensive independant review and that the police’s actions so far had been exemplary.
The Netpol report states: “Netpol believes an external review of the way Lancashire Police has conducted its operation at Preston New Road is the logical next step.
“However, an evaluation conducted after anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss in 2014 by the then Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester Tony Lloyd, was horribly mishandled.
“Any review of strategic and operational tactics and decisions in Lancashire must demonstrate that it is genuinely independent and must also show it is willing to talk to the one important group that were ignored at Barton Moss – the campaigners themselves.”
Mr Taylor (right) who was at the fracking site at Little Plumpton yesterday, slammed the policing of fracking and oil and gas drilling protests across England, and agreed with the report’s allegations that ‘aggressive and confrontational’ police tactics were having a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of protest.
He said: “The way that the police have been instructed to operate has resulted in deterioration of relations with the community. By and large the protesters are engaged in peaceful protests.
“It is the police tactics which have caused the issues and caused the community to question whether they are willing to give their consent to the policing.”
He said support for fracking was ‘at an all time low’.
“This public money should instead be invested in sustainable, renewable energy such as solar and wind,” he added.
Also present at the launch of the report at Preston New Road was former Liberal Democrat leader and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale Tim Farron.
He said: “I wanted to stand alongside those who oppose fracking because it is very wrong for this government to be investing in yet another fossil fuel.
“We should be seeking instead to create thousands of new jobs and meeting our energy needs through an ambitious renewals strategy – investing in hydro, tidal, marine, off-shore wind and solar power will create real long term jobs and provide a bigger long term solution to our energy needs.”
The Backing Fracking group criticised the Netpol report, saying the organisation was ‘hardly an unbiased observer’.
A spokesman added: “If it weren’t for a small number of hardened national activists intent on causing trouble, the protests on Preston New Road could have enjoyed a much more low-key policing response.
“When officer numbers have been scaled-back, activists have been quick to take advantage.”
Kevin Blowe, coordinator for Netpol, said: “We have monitored increasingly confrontational and violent tactics against protesters, efforts to deliberately stifle the effectiveness of their protests and a failure to listen and respond to growing local concerns.
“The likely result is a long-term legacy of resentment and distrust that will last long after protests are over. This is why we believe a genuinely independent and external review of Lancashire’s policing operation is now essential.”
Lancashire Police –which on its website says, ‘we take no sides in this matter’ – today said it had no plans to change the strength of the presence or the tactics it employs.
Addressing the concerns over the policing style at Preston New Road, a force spokesman today said: “Our aim as always is to ensure is a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to peacefully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.
"We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”
Mr Grunshaw today said: “The policing operation on Preston New Road is in place to ensure public safety on what is a very busy and vital route.
“Officers at the fracking site are caught between competing demands of facilitating peaceful protest and allowing companies to conduct their lawful business, as well as keeping an important emergency services route open as much as possible.
“Where people do have concerns about the actions of the police, in these cases there is a well-publicised, robust complaints procedure which makes sure that individual incidents are fully investigated.”
Local protest group Frack Free Lancashire criticised ‘oppresive policing’ towards campaigners who had ‘explored all other legitimate means of protest and seen fracking imposed upon them in spite of a democratic decision to forbid it’.
A spokesman added: “We are fighting a David versus Goliath battle against an invasive industry and yet the current policing model has created a skewed narrative that it is protesters versus the police. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“In fact, we need the police to protect our hard-won civil right to protest, but this is simply not happening.”
Cuadrilla declined to comment on the policing issue but a spokesman from pro-shale group Lancashire For Shale said: “If anyone’s behaviour needs to be examined it is that of the activists themselves, who have engaged in unlawful direct action, such as wilfully obstructing the highway.
“There is certainly no need for an expensive, independent review – especially given the policing costs that have already been borne by local taxpayers.
“The policing of the protests outside Cuadrilla’s site on Preston New Road this year has been nothing short of exemplary.”
The Green Party has claimed the cost of policing fracking in Lancashire since January now stands at £7.9m.
The figures are in part based on a letter from police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw, who said for August alone the expected cost of policing fracking was £500,000. This figure was used to estimate the cost in September and October.
Mr Grunshaw also confirmed the cost of the operation between January, when Cuadrilla started drilling at Preston New Road, and July had reached £3.25m.
And on October 9, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, in response to a question from Green Party peer Jenny Jones, revealed Lancashire Police applied for a special £3.1m grant to help cover the costs of policing fracking protests at Preston New Road.
In April the Gazette was told by police that the monthly cost of having officers and vehicles at the frack site was £450,000.