Solidarity in the Desolate North – 26 01 2014

“But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the north-east where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment.”  Lord Howell*

Barton Moss - in the desolate north

Barton Moss – in the desolate north

Our coach arrived in a large car park with people waving and cheering – a great welcome after a long journey. I smiled at a slightly grubby looking woman who gave me a hug and thanked me for coming; she has been camping out at Barton Moss for the last 2 months over winter. People of all ages and descriptions arrived in coaches, minibuses, cars, on foot, in wheelchairs. The buzz and the atmosphere grew as we started to march together with banners waving, singing and shouting. Gayser Frackman appeared at regular intervals along the way, perched up high, shouting his support with drum in hand. The honking of horns from vehicles slowed by the march showed overwhelming support. We could see from the banners that many locals were present as well as those from round the country.

Just outside the camp, by the roadside we stopped to listen to speakers, music and messages of solidarity before walking down the muddy track to the drill site. If press interest was based on numbers of people then you would have heard much more about this Solidarity Sunday with a gathering of hundreds. But when the media focuses on clashes between protestors and police, a quiet gathering may almost go unnoticed.

Walking back from the drill site I was full of admiration for the people at the Barton Moss anti-fracking camp. It is stretched out along a muddy verge beside a single track road and the tents look beaten up by the recent weather. Yet the camp appeared extremely well organised; hot food was being given out and there was a constant flow of people from the tea tent. People are living there and doing so because of the strength of their feelings. They are there for us, as well as themselves because if fracking is allowed it will affect us all.

My motivation for sitting on a coach for 8 hours on a Sunday came from my outrage at Cameron’s recent announcement that he would be bribing Councils (giving them a financial share of the business rates) to agree Planning for hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. Big business is heavily influencing our government, which is why Cameron and his allies are going ‘all out’ for the dash for gas. Why else would a ‘Green’ government make fracking so easy and allow the potential for low carbon and renewables to fall by the wayside.

I don’t use the word ‘bribe’ lightly, yet how else can the government’s actions be seen? Councils are strapped for cash and are really struggling to provide vital support and services for the most vulnerable people in our communities. So, they would consider carefully, any offer of cash. But what they also need to consider is how these communities could be destroyed by the industrialisation of the landscape, the risk of damage to human and livestock health and the further pollution of the environment. Now, and in decades to come.

So I travelled to Barton Moss, with nearly 50 others from Bristol and Somerset to show Solidarity with people in a part of the country I previously thought I had no connection with. The connection is that we are voicing our opposition to fracking, and unless we stand together to show our opposition, people will not listen and the government will not stop.

*Lord Howell (who lives in southern England), former minister and adviser on energy policy to William Hague and George Osborne’s father-in-law, House of Lords on 30 07 13