Yorkshire Post comment: The cost of dissent

Alan Billings
Alan Billings
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The beleaguered South Yorkshire police force may have itself to blame, at least in part, for some of the extraordinary bills on its doorstep, but the cost of keeping the peace at the sites of proposed fracking wells in its region is not among them.

The county’s police and crime commissioner, Alan Billings, had set aside £1m to deal with protests at up to three emerging sites but has acknowledged that it may not be enough.

He is, of course, right to admit that no-one knows what the true cost will be – and the Government has not helped anyone’s estimations by withholding a 2016 report on the subject, which is thought to have concluded that Ministers exaggerated the economic benefits of fracking.

It cannot be right that an important public resource is drained by paralysis in Whitehall, either to rule on the underlying issue or at least mandate the mineral companies who wish to drill for shale gas beneath our county to contribute towards the cost of policing their sites.

It is not a problem confined to the south of our region; in Ryedale, protests in the village of Kirby Misperton surpassed £700,000 earlier this year.

But South Yorkshire is unique in also having to budget for the exceptional costs of the National Crime Agency’s investigation of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, and civil payouts to victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

There has also been the cost of policing the protests surrounding Sheffield Council’s controversial tree-felling programme, an area in which the police have been rightly criticised.

Given all that, it needs this latest cost like a hole in the ground.