Who pays Â£450k police bill for fracking?
Cash-strapped Lancashire Police has said an extra Â£450,000 a month will be needed to cover the controversial fracking operation on the Fylde.
And it estimated that in the past financial year it spent £200,000 on top of its annual budget on policing fracking issues.
The figures were provided after the force turned down our request for the cost of policing fracking in a Freedom of Information request - see right.
The force says the money is an extra drain on its resources which it had not budgeted ahead for and the higher figure will be needed as activity at shale gas drilling company Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site ramps up.
The money is being spent on police overtime and the cost of having police vans and officers at the site off the busy A583 at Little Plumpton as campaigners gather there every day to protest against plans to drill for gas.
The force has suffered huge cuts in recent years with 850 officers and 450 police staff losing their jobs since austerity began.
Faced with cuts and rising costs it has made £78.7m of annual savings – with another £40m to be saved by 2020.
Calls have been made for the Government to cover the fracking-related costs via a special grant from the Home Office, since it overturned Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject the application.
The issue has been controversial, with supporters and opponents defending their positions, particularly following a six-week planing appeal held at Blackpool Football Club after which communities minister Sajid Javid gave permission for Cuadrilla to construct its well site at Little Plumpton last year.
Backers of fracking say that it will create thousands of jobs and provide the UK with its own secure gas supply for power and chemical resources.
Opponents fear fracking, which involves injecting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into rock thousands of feet below the surface to release gas, will cause earth tremors as it did in 2011 at Preese Hall near Blackpool, cause pollution and disrupt rural areas.
Preston New Road has seen a daily vigil from local residents at the roadside but in recent months increasing direct action protests at the site and at a variety of firms supplying goods and services to Cuadrilla.
As protests increased, more police have been called in and appeals have been made by pro-frackers to crack down on protesters, while anti-fracking campaigners say policing has been heavy handed and a drain on public resources.
A police spokesman said: “We estimate the additional cost will be around £450,000 a month from April (this will be kept under review and published). We also estimate we will have spent up to £200,000 additional costs in the current financial year.”
Claire Stephenson from the anti-fracking Preston New Road Action Group said: “These outrageously excessive policing costs must be footed by central government and actually, Cuadrilla themselves.
“Both have thrust themselves on an unwilling community, using sly tactics and top-down forced politics to get their own way.
“We said no, we will continue to say no and we will resist on every level. I can’t imagine what the government was thinking, expecting communities to step aside for a dirty industry to roll in, unhindered.
“Their minimal understanding of the gravity of their undemocratic decision appears stunted and naive at best.”
John Hobson from Defend Lytham said: “This massive drain on local resources is only necessary due to the imposition of this industry on us by central government.
“If they are claiming fracking to be of such national importance that local decisions should be overruled then the expense of policing should be a national not a local expense.
“Cuadrilla themselves might also consider making a contribution as it is their foreign investors who will be walking away with any profits.”
Councillor Miranda Cox stated: “I am staggered that it has been deemed necessary to police this protest to such a level.
“On many occasions, the police outnumber protestors and their tactics have been disproportionate.
“It appears that as the site proceeds towards its operational activity, that the police will struggle to resource their operations.
“This is a situation caused by the location of the site and what appears to be a political agenda to drive it forward at any cost.”
Helen Rimmer, North West campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “The Government is forcing fracking on Lancashire against the wishes of residents and local councils.
“Cuadrilla failed to get public support for their fracking operations and so people will continue to peacefully oppose this industry which risks our environment, health and climate.
“Rather than continue to ignore local democracy, and especially as legal proceedings are still on-going, Cuadrilla should stop work at Preston New Road.”
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla said: “Neither our operations nor peaceful, law abiding protests require the attendance of Lancashire Police at the Preston New Road site. “The police are unfortunately however required there on a daily basis in order to control the activities of a small group of mostly non-local activists.
“These activists are happy to break the law in an effort to disrupt Cuadrilla’s operations.
“Their actions have not prevented us operating but have inflicted regular and severe delay and disruption on regular users of the A583, caused the Police and Lancashire taxpayers to incur significant incremental expense and frequently endangered both their own and others safety.
“The number of arrests and the variety of charges made, conclusively demonstrates that the irresponsible and reckless behaviour from this core group of so-called protestors must be brought to an end.
“Their antics are achieving nothing but wasting local money, preventing hardworking local firms from running their businesses and causing misery and delay to local commuters. ”
Lancashire Police has called the added financial pressure a ‘drain’ while Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw accused ministers of ‘passing the buck’.
A force spokesman said: “The increase is because activity at the site is increasing. Additional cost is one that we have not budgeted for and is therefore a drain on our financial resources.
“It is costs we would not have incurred if we did not have to police the operation, covering things such as overtime.”
For the police to qualify for extra Home Office help the total additional cost would have to be one per cent of the annual budget, which for 2017/18 would be around £2.6m
Mr Grunshaw today warned the costs could rise further.
He said: “We are only just starting to see the true financial impact of policing the Preston New Road site.
“Having seen the site for myself I know just how dangerous it is and what a difficult task the police are facing.
“As the work ramps up over the summer the police are putting aside more and more for the extra work needed to keep people safe at the site.
“The police are entitled to Home Office support once the costs pass a certain point and of course we will be doing this.
“But there are no guarantees and the Government still expects the people of Lancashire to foot the bill for the first £2.6m.
“This is unfair and unjust as it comes on the back of Government reductions that have already cost Lancashire police £2.5m this year.
“I have raised this with Sajid Javid, the minister behind the decision, who must have known that this site would be the target of protests when he approved it.
“He has passed the buck back to the Home Office so I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers, including the local MP, to discuss these costs and funding for Lancashire police.”