GP Taylor: Give us a referendum on fracking

I AM not one for political protests, but a Facebook invitation for an anti-fracking demo took me to stand outside the Spa Grand Hall in Scarborough.

Opponents of fracking in Ryedale take to the streets.

Having had a full mailbag to the column I wrote on fracking, I had to see what anti-fracking demonstrators looked like first hand.

As a former police officer, I have worked on many demonstrations where I saw the usual suspects turn up to cause grief. How amazed I was when those protesting turned out to be such a normal bunch of people.

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The protesters lined the approach to the Spa and sang and chanted. There was not a single anarchist in sight. Here was a collection of aunties, uncles, grans and granddads. They were normal folk of all ages and great in number. They shared one passion and that was to stop fracking for gas in Yorkshire.

Talking to many of them, the common answer to my questions was that the problem of fracking could not be left in the hands of politicians to decide. They believed that fracking was big business and that the lure of money would cause local companies to want to get involved in the hope of making a fast buck and that politicians could not be trusted.

It was surprising that, knowing the scale of the public opinion against fracking, Scarborough Business Ambassadors welcomed the energy companies to the conference and the town. Not so surprising when I realised some would have a vested interest and their businesses profit from having local shale gas extraction.

The big problem with fracking is that there are very well-known dangers and these significant dangers are played down by the energy companies. I spoke to one delegate who tried to convince me that no pollutants were pumped into the ground and that the process was totally safe. The weight of evidence I have found would argue to the contrary.

With these dangers in mind, is it wrong to leave such important decisions to elected politicians who so often get things wrong?

On Friday week, North Yorkshire County Council is due to discuss whether or not to allow fracking to take place under some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. They could go against the wishes of their electors by putting profit before people.

If NYCC approves this application, it may be harder for the council to reject future fracking applications as a precedent will have been set. This could result in hundreds of fracking wells across Ryedale and North Yorkshire. Third Energy stated on March 10 that it was planning to establish 19 well sites across Ryedale, with between 10 and 50 wells per site. To me, that is the industrialisation of the countryside on an epic scale.

In an area of outstanding natural beauty, local politicians could give the right to allow energy companies who have to satisfy the pockets of investors to frack for gas. Yorkshire relies heavily on tourism and yet a Defra report recently said that fracking could reduce the number of visitors to the rural area, with an associated reduction in spend in the local tourism economy.

Surely then, this debate is of such importance that it should be put out to a local referendum for the county? I, for one, would certainly want to have my say at the ballot box about the possibility of having a toxic stew polluting my water supply, as happened in America near fracking wells, or York Minster being brought to the ground by a fracking- related earthquake, like that which happened off Blackpool.

Not only does fracking bring pollution but according to Defra it will cause house prices to drop. Isn’t that alone enough to ask for a public vote on this issue?

I fear that without a public vote then the Tory-dominated NYCC might just do the bidding of their Westminster paymasters and agree to let fracking happen under our feet.

It is the wish of the Tory government to have a maturing shale gas production industry within 10 years. There is a vital importance that the Government should not be allowed to force fracking through at any cost.

Without a public referendum, NYCC cannot – and should not – be allowed to grant any permissions as it does not have the backing of the electorate. If it is good enough to have a referendum on staying in Europe, then it is good enough to have one on whether or not we should allow this form of gas extraction under the glorious skies of this beautiful county.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.