Summer fracking rallies 'will stretch struggling Yorkshire police force'

Fracking protests expected in Yorkshire this summer will post a 'significant challenge' to over-stretched police resources in parts of the region, the body representing rank and file officers has claimed.

Fracking is a divisive community issue

Demonstrations are expected in the coming weeks in response to the long-awaited decision on a proposal by Third Energy to use the controversial mining method at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, next month.

Mike Stubbs, of North Yorkshire’s Police Federation, says the difficulties the county’s force faces in maintaining order at major events over the summer will be made worse by the need to police the protests.

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He said: “We know we invariably have a huge influx of visitors, and a variety of large scale events across the summer, such as York Races and the Great Yorkshire Show.

“Cuts to neighbouring forces will limit the support that they can offer us. If we see large scale protests over fracking, it will be a significant challenge for the force.”

The claims were made in a statement released by the Federation in response to the re-election of Conservative Julia Mulligan as police and crime commissioner last week.

Mr Stubbs said the fracking protests would exacerbate “resourcing problems traditionally experienced in the summer period, arising from North Yorkshire’s popularity as a tourist destination”.

He added: “Now that the election is over, it is time to take the politics out of policing in this county, and work together to make sure we can continue to keep North Yorkshire the safest county in England.

“Whenever we raise the issue of officer numbers, we are constantly told that it isn’t about the number of police officers, it is about how they are deployed.

“Well, if it isn’t about numbers, can someone please explain why there are 8,500 cancelled rest days currently owed to police officers in North Yorkshire.

“Those rest days have been cancelled to meet operational needs. This evidence supports what we are being told by our members, that they are struggling to keep up with demand.”

North Yorkshire County Council will rule on the fracking application at Kirby Misperton on May 20. Third Energy first asked for permission at the end of July last year and planning rules say the application should have been decided within 16 weeks.

But the process has been repeatedly delayed amid requests from the county for further information.

The decision will receive national attention amid frustration from the Government and energy firms at the slow progress in getting a UK fracking industry up and running in the face of vocal opposition.

It was reported in April that environmental organisation Greenpeace has hinted it may take “direct action” against plans to start fracking in the Ryedale district. Superintendent Dave Hannan, Head of Specialist Operations at North Yorkshire Police, said: “The police have a duty to facilitate lawful protest. This involves liaising with all sides of the issue and working with local authority partners to minimise disruption to residents and businesses.”

Last October, watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that that North Yorkshire Police was “adequately prepared to face its future financial challenges”.

It said: “It has successfully reduced its spending over the last spending review period while working hard to protect local policing. For these reasons the force is graded as good.

“Future saving plans beyond 2017 are being developed and rely on the force adopting a number of different ways of working.”

North Yorkshire Police, which covers an area of 3,208 square miles with a population of roughly 800,000 people, earlier this year launched a recruitment drive in a bid to raise its officer numbers to 1,400 after avoiding swingeing cuts in last year’s Government spending review.

The scheme announced by crime commissioner Julia Mulligan would see the force’s manpower rise from its current level of 1,343 and the number of Police Community Support Officers rise from 183 to 200.

Though the force has not had to make savings like those in neighbouring West Yorkshire, it has fewer employees than 2010, when it had 1,486 officers and 198 PCSOs.

The cuts expected in November’s Autumn Statement would have meant officer numbers could have fallen as low as 1,298, according to Mrs Mulligan.

In response to the Police Federation, Mrs Mulligan said: “We are currently running a successful recruitment campaign which has attracted many high-quality applicants for the new police officer posts that are being created.

“The boost in both police officer and PCSO numbers as well as specialist civilian staff is very good news for North Yorkshire and means we are in a much stronger position to deliver our goals – protecting vulnerable people, cutting crime and anti-social behaviour and delivering a better service to victims.

“We also have relatively robust finances which means we are well-placed to resource and deal with operational demands as required.

“Of course none of this means I will be complacent about continuing to champion North Yorkshire’s corner for funding with the powers that be.”