Lancashire women to lead suffragette-themed anti-fracking rally outside Parliament
A hundred Lancashire women will don suffragette dress and descend on Westminster this week to demand that the government drops its plans to speed up the process of granting planning permission for fracking.
The group will take part in a rally outside Parliament to coincide with a Westminster Hall debate on proposed changes to planning laws.
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The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is currently consulting on whether to make it easier for energy firms like Cuadrilla - which is poised to begin fracking in Little Plumpton, near Blackpool - to carry out an initial assessment of whether there are significant shale gas reserves in a particular location.
A full-scale planning application would be required before the actual fracking process could begin to take gas from the ground.
But Dot Kelp, from the campaign group Frack Free Lancashire, claims the change would make fracking applications a fait accomplis.
“First and foremost, [energy] companies are businesses - they are there to make money.
“I don’t know of any business which would invest in the exploratory phase of fracking - which is incredibly complex and expensive - if they don’t believe that the next stage is more or less, a foregone conclusion,” Ms Kelp said.
Currently, planning applications for exploratory work in advance of fracking are supposed to be decided by councils within 16 weeks, but the government says some are taking more than eighteen months.
Permission was initially refused for the Little Plumpton site after a local authority process which lasted more than a year. That decision was then overturned by ministers a year later.
Another campaigner heading for the capital is Deborah Whiteside, from Longridge, who says “local democracy is dead”.
But she denies that the daily protests alongside Preston New Road have become futile, even though the government recently declared that shale gas has “a key part to play” in the fulfilling future energy needs in England.
“I think [we are] making a difference. A lot of this is about money, but money - in the long run - isn’t going to give us better air quality and water supplies,” Ms Whiteside said.
And Dot Kelp says the female-orientated rally outside Parliament on Wednesday is particularly symbolic.
“If you look throughout history, lots of the main campaigns have been lead by women. Women are a very strong voice, they look to the future more. They’ve got their children and grandchildren - and they understand what legacy we could be leaving to [them].”
In a statement, the MHCLG said: “With the government committed to ensuring that strong safeguards are in place, any new permitted development right would have to abide by both environmental and site protection laws and would not apply to exploratory drilling in sensitive areas (such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
“Exploratory drilling for shale deposits are treated separately to full hydraulic shale gas extraction, both will remain subject to strict planning and environmental controls.”
The government’s consultation closes on 25th October.