The government is forcing fracking on communities who have rejected it

Nothing says ‘Green GB Week’ like the start of a whole new fossil fuel industry.

Edit: At the time of publication, the three activists facing jail time for anti-fracking protests were appealing their sentences in the Court of Appeal. The court has now quashed their sentences, calling them manifestly excessive”

This is a big week for the climate movement.

It’s the first ever Green Week for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the government’s week-long celebration’ of the green economy. It also marks the first live fracking in the UK since 2011, and the first time that activists are being forced to appeal their prison sentences for trying to stop it. Nice one. The government wants to present itself as an advocate for a cleaner, green future”. That means this is the week to look at what the government has actually been up to.

Today, three activists who were jailed for their actions to try to stop fracking in England are appealing their inexplicably harsh sentences. Right now, their friends, family and supporters are gathered outside the court of appeal to hear whether or not these sentences, the first of their kind since 1932, will be upheld.

In the summer of 2017, Rich, Rich and Roscoe stopped lorries carrying fracking equipment onto a site on Preston New Road in Lancashire, licensed to fracking company Cuadrilla. As a result they were added to the 350 other protester arrests that have taken place at Preston New Road since January 2017, all of which have resulted in fines or community service. I was there when they climbed on top of the lorries, and I was there when they got down three days later to thunderous applause. Their actions had caused yet another supply chain company to pull out of their contract with Cuadrilla, saying they never would have taken the job had they known it was in service of the questionable fracking industry.

At the same time as these appeals, this week Cuadrilla has begun fracking for the first time since exploratory drilling caused two earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011. Their efforts have been stalled and prevented every day for the last seven years by a broad coalition of activists encompassing people from all walks of life, from grandmothers to local councillors.

But time and time again, the government has moved the goal posts in a desperate attempt to push fracking on to communities at any cost. When Lancashire County Council unanimously rejected fracking in 2015, the decision was called in and overruled by then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. Yep, that’s the Secretary of State for Communities overriding the wishes of communities.

Elsewhere in the UK, with support and training from NEF, a community in Eckington, Derbyshire, also successfully fought off fracking locally, only to see the County Council’s decision overturned. Derbyshire County Council’s planning committee overwhelmingly voted (9 – 1) to oppose Ineos’ proposals, but Ineos neatly side stepped the Council by securing a national planning inquiry, effectively nullifying local power.

The government is currently seeking to fast-track fracking by rewriting local planning rules, which, if approved, will allow fracking companies to bypass local councils completely and make drilling as easy as putting up a garden shed in terms of planning regulations. And only last week the energy minister suggested that fracking safety laws around seismic activity could be relaxed to encourage the expansion of the industry.

So here we are: only one week after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched its latest report, telling us we have just 12 years to limit climate catastrophe, we have a government that is simultaneously massively rewarding the fossil fuel industry while jailing those trying to stand in its way. While fracking has already been banned by devolved powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this government has shown nothing but disdain for local democracy, climate science and communities at the sharp end of climate breakdown.

We need more businesses like the supply chain company that pulled out of the whole operation, recognising the importance of local people having a say over what happens where they live. But we also need a government that acts on its own rhetoric. If the government wants to use Green GB Week to really promote a cleaner, green future”, it should start by giving the voices of local communities, and those most affected by climate change, more weight than those of energy giants.

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