Anti-fracking campaigners have reacted with anger and frustration at a Government decision to allow a controversial gas storage facility on the Fylde Coast.
Energy minister Lord Bourne has, on appeal, granted permission to Halite to create a huge underground gas store in salt caverns at Preesall despite three rejections of the plan and massive public opposition.
Now residents and campaigners opposing shale gas say that decision by the Department of Energy and Climate Change was undemocratic and bodes ill for their own battle against energy company Cuadrilla.
Two bids by Cuadrilla to test frack on the Fylde were rejected last month by Lancashire County Council, but the shale gas explorer could yet appeal to a Government inspector.
Barbara Richardson, from the Roseacre Awareness Group, said: “We are appalled by this decision to overrule local democracy and fear that Westminster will try and intervene in the fracking debate too against the wishes of the people and elected representatives.
“We elect local councillors (parish, borough and county) to represent us and this is democracy in action. Local people understand local issues and the will of the people.
“To blatantly ignore this is sheer arrogance and a recipe for disaster. We will stand with the people of the Wyre.
“They have spent years to successfully defeat this, with good grounds, and even had the support of the Planning Inspector as well as local councils. They must be absolutely devastated.
“Fracking is an altogether different game as it could affect over 60 per cent of the UK, and should Westminster intervene again, I am sure it will have serious repercussions.”
Alan Tootill, from the Preston New Road Action Group, said: “This confirms our worst fears.
“This government has no concern for local democracy and local decision-making.
“Over 40,000 people objected to the Preesall applications and three times the plans were turned down at local level.
“How can we have any faith in this government when our local environment, our local communities, count for nothing in their eyes?
“We shall continue to fight tooth and nail to protect our health, our environment, the air we breathe, and to uphold decisions by our local representatives at parish, borough and county level.”
Tina Rothery, from Residents Action of Fylde Fracking, said: “It is awful news not just for the people of Wyre but for the rights of local people anywhere in the UK.
“That central government can overrule the clear will of the people and their Council that has three times rejected this application, makes a mockery of our ‘democracy’.
“Many of us have been fighting to keep fracking out of Lancashire for nearly four years now and the recent support of Lancashire County Council was very welcome; with this announcement today though at the overturning of the decision on Halite, we are of course deeply concerned about what will happen next in this campaign as well.
“This government has used the term ‘localism’ as if it would be something empowering for communities; this makes it clear that it is nothing of the sort.”
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: ‘This decision raises big questions about the Government’s commitment to local democracy because this facility was turned down several times before Westminster stepped in to make it happen.
“This must not be repeated in order to force fracking on Lancashire after the county refused to swallow the hype from central Government and the fracking industry.”
Energy and Climate Change Minister Lord Bourne, who is the Minister responsible for energy planning consents, said the Halite plan was strategically important for the nation.
He said: “Investment in new energy infrastructure is essential if we are to keep the lights on and bills down.
“This is a major project which will benefit the local economy by creating jobs and stimulating businesses.
“Gas is also the greenest fossil fuel and helps us lower our carbon emissions, which is important in the UK’s move to a cleaner energy future.”