www.counterbalance.org.uk

 

fylde counterbalance logo

search counterbalance

plain text / printout version of this article

countering the spin and providing the balance


 

Another Shambles

Another ShamblesIf Fylde's Conservatives lose their overall majority at the next election, they will only have themselves to blame,  because they are failing to listen to the wishes and concerns of their electorate, and not representing them. 

This awful Cabinet system has encouraged them to believe their role is to lead (ie to decide what is best for their electorate) rather than to represent the views and wishes of their electorate.

They have developed institutionalised civic arrogance.

The most recent evidence of this is the appalling performance they delivered, and the disgraceful behaviour they employed in front of 100 or so of their electorate from the length and breadth of Fylde at the Full Council meeting on Monday 24th July 2014

In the last ten or so years, (more or less co-inciding with the introduction of the Cabinet system), we have had the misfortune to witness half a dozen of the most shambolic Council meetings Fylde has held.

Prior to the last decade, meetings would occasionally throw up a daft decision - all Councils make them from time to time - but the last decade has been exceptional for the number of really awful meetings.

First in August 2007, we had a rare Council meeting at Elswick, (which we reported in 'No Accounting for Fylde'). The botched introduction of a new accounting computer meant Fylde could not reconcile income and spending for nearly nine months. This led directly led to the disastrous Streetscene loss of £700,000 being reported once accounts could be balanced. It also led to a bad report from Fylde's External Auditors where, goaded by Cllr Paul Hayhurst for his financial incompetence, the Commissar turned on his heel and spat out "And you can shut your gob" at Cllr Hayhurst in the middle of a Council meeting.

Then came the November 2007 Council meeting which we titled 'A Shambles' - and where Queen Elizabeth Oades' exposed the Commissar's wheeze to get his Cabinet to decide to transfer 200 of his 350 staff onto Wyre's payroll and to begin to prepare to merge Fylde and Wyre with Blackpool as a single Unitary Council without consulting the full Council. This was a meeting where procedural gaffes were rife. Movers of motions were called to propose them after their issues had already been dealt with. A member of the public was so disgusted with the procedure, they stood up, said so, and walked out. An inexperienced Councillor trying to second a motion was cut short, then re-invited to make their speech to wind up the debate. An amendment negating a motion was accepted, voted on and passed.

Six months later, we had the awful - and possibly worst ever - meeting in Fylde's history on 3rd March 2008 (which we covered in 'Travesty of Democracy') where hundreds of residents attended (but many were not admitted to the meeting), and thousands marched in protest at the plan to close the Swimming Pools. At this meeting, the Commissar used a guillotine motion to cut short debate as he led his sheep-like party members to vote for closing the pools.

Three years later, in April 2011 we published 'Still a Shambles' showing how the Council was manipulated and lied to during the awful meeting that considered both the disposal of Melton Grove and the £300,000 Grant to Lytham Hall. The Scrutiny Chairman introduced her minutes then got up and walked out - which meant she would not have to vote for them. We were treated to the extra-ordinary spectacle of Council Leader David Eaves seconding a proposition put by Cllr Eastham which was against the motion he himself had proposed at Cabinet, had been voted through at Cabinet and had also put forward by him as his proposition at that self same Council meeting a few minutes earlier. Procedural gaffes were allowed to stand, and the result was, once again pushed through - because of this.

There have been other awful meetings of course, notably the Council meeting called by Mayor Howard Henshaw to try to stay the disposal of Melton Grove which the then Chief Executive tried to circumvent by threatening the recharge the Mayor of the day with the cost of holding the extra-ordinary Council meeting, and by sending staff scuttling round in advance of the meeting to collect signatures that would pre-empt any decision the Council might have taken.

Another was the scheme to sell the Heeley Road Depot for a Homeless Hostel. We showed in Corruption in Fylde? how at the Council meeting, the Scrutiny Chairman, Cllr Mrs Buckley, simply noted the decision of her Scrutiny committee, and then proposed an entirely conflicting resolution.

She had to apologise for this action and undergo further training, but the damage was done, and the decision stood.

There have been similarly shambolic planning meetings during this period as well.

When you review Fylde's shambolic meetings, you find there are at least one, and usually two common threads running through them all.

That commonality is a ruling group hell-bent on brooking no opposition to a plan it has already decided upon; and where it forces that decision through, against public opinion. The second is an officer class who have allowed (or in some cases created), an administrative sleight of hand to allow or facilitate them to do so.

All of this is very damaging to our democracy.

And on Monday night we were treated to yet another example of a shambles of a meeting.

As we said in 'July 14: Fracking Update' the agenda contained searching questions and notice of a motion on matters related to fracking, so we expected some interesting and serious answers and debate.

For the most part, we got neither.

Outside the meeting

As we arrived, we found groups of local residents demonstrating their opposition to fracking at the entrance of the Church Hall. Placards and banners were everywhere. We even spotted one against the end wall when we got inside. We thought it was cleverly placed behind where Cllr Mrs Oades was sitting so everyone looking at her would see the placard over her shoulder.

We saw groups of folk from Elswick, Newton, Freckleton and more - all united to oppose the introduction of Fracking in Fylde.

As with the 3rd March 'pool closures' meeting, and the planning meeting that considered the Sports Stadium at Wrea Green, a raffle ticket admission system had been implemented by the Council to restrict access to the maximum fire regulation capacity of the hall.

We expected a busy night -  but not this.

The entranceway

And although we got there - what we thought very early, we only just got in before the admissions ceased. We imagine there were quite a few who could not get in.

Unfortunately, it was Cllr Kevin Eastham's first meeting as this year's Mayor.

It turned out to be a baptism of fire for him.

We thought he tried hard to keep things on an even keel. Without being too heavy-handed (no threats of calling the police in response to sustained applause and standing ovations for some speakers) he showed a light enough touch to manage what was clearly an unhappy public gallery full of residents without incurring their wrath, but he was unsure of some of the procedural points and continually had to defer to Officers for clarification.

By the start time of 7pm we estimated there were roughly 100 members of the public seated on three sides of the room, and 50 or so Councillors facing the top table which was arranged along the other long wall.

The first item was declarations of interest, and the prediction we made in 'July 14: Fracking Update' was proved wrong.

There were wholesale declarations of interest of one sort or another.

We've said before these things are fiendishly complicated to understand, let alone to manage if you are a councillor.

And we see a huge difference between a councillor publicly accepting a cheque on behalf of their community for some community facility that has received a donation from any business, (including Cuadrilla), and a payment made to an individual which is attempting to secure favourable considerations or decisions.

We can also see something of an anomalous situation where money (such as compensation for disturbance or use of land) is paid on a business to business basis and not to an individual.

Before going into the 'who's who' of who has received money from Cuadrilla, we need to do a quick and dirty explanation of 'interests'.

Broadly speaking, it's not necessarily wrong (contrary to what many people believe) for a councillor to take money or benefit from someone, provided that the benefit is publicly declared and, if it conforms with certain criteria, the recipient takes no part in discussions or debates which involve the benefactor.

In effect, if someone openly admits to having received benefits from 'X Ltd' and leaves the room whenever a matter concerning them is discussed and takes no part in influencing the decision, there is no conflict of interest.

Some people may not consider it palatable or appropriate, but it is not unlawful.

But it does become unlawful when either: it is not disclosed as an interest; or, when it is disclosed, but the recipient still seeks to influence decisions about the benefactor.

These situations are not always as crude as a 'brown envelope'.

In fact in over 40 years experience of local government, we only came across that situation once, and even then, the person concerned went straight to the Council's Audit department and reported the contractor for making the offer.

So, broadly speaking, we don't think 'bungs' happen much at all in Local Government.

But the sort of thing that does happen - and we use this instance only as a recent and clear example, is the case of Cllr Tim Ashton (who was a Director of Lytham Town Trust and, at the same time, he was also a Director of the Clifton (Lytham Housing Association ) (CLHA).

He stood to see the Town Trust (of which he was a Director), benefit from the income derived from the sale of CLHA (of which he was also a Councillor Director).

This benefit arose because the two matters were inextricably linked by a Cabinet resolution of his Conservative colleagues to dispose of CLHA to make the £300,000 grant to Lytham Hall).

So at all FBC meetings, where the sale of CLHA was being discussed, Cllr Ashton - quite properly - declared a personal and prejudicial interest, left the room, and took no part in the debate about CLHA sale.

We've just mentioned both Personal and Prejudicial, interests, and the distinction between the two must be understood.

Broadly, a personal interest is one where, say, as a local prominent person you receive a donation for that community on behalf of the community.

Current thinking and legal advice on this says that you should declare this as a Personal interest, but - because it is something that is public and open, and because your role in it is widely known and understood, it is not necessary to exclude yourself from discussions and decisions concerning the benefactor. (The theory being that if people know of your situation they can form judgements about your impartiality and so on).

However, if money or benefit (over £25) had been paid to you as an individual - say in a perfectly proper commercial transaction (such as a discount on a purchase, or a loan, or in compensation for some disturbance or inconvenience you have suffered) then not everyone will know about it, and your judgement might be favourably compromised toward the person or business who paid the benefit you.

As such this is deemed to be a Prejudicial interest which MUST be declared and usually results in no participation in debate or decisions.

Black and white is in very short supply in this matter.

Most issues are shades of grey (and there are way more than 50).

There's one further interest we should mention, and that is where someone is a member of two organisations and in particular say a combination of parish, borough and County councils. There may be discussions at one which, because of what will happen elsewhere, lead to concerns of pre-judgement at another, and sometimes, councillors will declare a Prejudicial interest at one level (even when no money or benefit is involved at all), but simply to preserve their ability to debate the matter at a higher level.

Interests are a complex matter, so, at the start of every meeting at Fylde, there is a standing 'Declaration of Interests' item on the agenda and it is up to each individual councillor to decide whether they have an interest in anything on the agenda, and if so whether that interest is personal and / or prejudicial.

OK, enough of the technicalities, what happened at the meeting last Monday?

Well, because of Cllr Mrs Oades' motion calling for a fracking moratorium, there were wholesale declarations of interest from those present.

We had not expected this at all, and in our view, the questions due to be asked by the chair of the Preston New Road anti-fracking group in particular, coupled with Queen Elizabeth's 'Moratorium' motion, had brought it about.

There could actually have been more declarations, because we noted some people - such as Cllr Eaves, Cllr Armit, Cllr Ashton, Cllr Ford, Cllr Mrs Nulty, Cllr Clayton and Cllr Redcliffe (there may have been others as well), were not able to be present at this meeting and were therefore not able to indicate whether they had a personal or prejudicial interest or not.

The list of those that did declare was surprisingly long, and comprised:

  • Cllr Heather Speak who said she had taken legal advice and was declaring a personal but non-prejudicial interest because she lives very close to one of the sites at Roseacre Wood, and two years ago her husband gave permission for Cuadrilla to use part of her garden to install seismic monitoring equipment for about three and a half weeks.
  • Cllr Howard Henshaw declared a personal interest because he was a life member of Fylde Rugby Club, and the club had benefited from sponsorship money from Cuadrilla.
  • Cllr Maxine Chew, declared a personal interest because she was a member of the Singleton Village Hall Committee and the hall had received funding from Cuadrilla.
  • Cllr Paul Hayhurst has a complex declaration. He had personal interests because of his membership of local village organisations that had been funded by Cuadrilla, but he was also a County Councillor and a member of the County Council's Development Control Committee that would be considering Cuadrilla's planning application, and he said he did not want to prejudice his ability to speak at that meeting, so he would declare a prejudicial interest in that regard last Monday, and when Cllr Oades' motion was discussed, he would leave the room and take no part in the debate.
  • Cllr Trevor Fiddler (who is also the Portfolio Holder for Planning at Fylde) declared that he had received a payment for access to his land in the seismic geological survey and, after taking his own legal advice, unlike Cllr Speak, he regarded the payment made to him as a prejudicial interest and he would withdraw from the meeting for that item.
  • Cllr Susan Fazackerley (who is also Fylde's Deputy Leader) declared a personal interest as the Council's representative on Lowther Trust and the Friends of Lowther received donations from Cuadrilla.
  • Clr Tommy Threlfall (who is also the Portfolio Holder for Environment at Fylde) said his was the same as Cllr Speak and Cllr Fiddler, he believed he had a personal and prejudicial interest in item 7 for access to his farm for the three week seismic survey in April 2012.
  • Cllr Albert Pounder (who is also the Portfolio Holder for Customer & Operational Services.) declared a personal interest as a member of Weeton Village Hall Committee who had received a donation from Cuadrilla, and as a member of Staining Parish Council who had also received a donation.
  • Cllr Ben Aitken declared a personal interest because he is a member of Fylde Rugby Club.
  • Cllr David Chedd declared a personal interest on account of his being member of Elswick Village Hall Management Committee, Elswick Parish Council and a community project which had received donations from Cuadrilla.
  • Cllr John Singleton declared a personal interest regarding Staining in Bloom which has connections to the Parish Council, although not a member of the 'In Bloom' group, Cllr Singleton is one of nine Staining Parish Councillors and also one of 9 members of the Weeton Village Hall Committee who received funding from Cuadrilla.
  • Cllr Mrs Angela Jaques chimed in at the end with a question as to whether she should declare a personal interest because of her involvement with something we couldn't hear. No-one could tell her because it up to the individual councillor to make the decision as to what constitutes an interest.

Now, people will read this list in different ways. Some will say well, it looks as though Cuadrilla is supporting the local community more than we thought and that's a good thing isn't it?

Others will say it is an insidious attempt to inculcate an inappropriately warm fuzzy glow toward Cuadrilla amongst prominent members of the local community.

We think it will depend on your own perspective.

At present we're ambivalent. We're sure GRE (in its day) and BAe, and the various incarnations of 'Salwick' all did (and indeed do) the same sort of funding for local groups, and we don't make a fuss about them, do we?

So it can't be that the principle of businesses giving money to good community causes is wrong.

Perhaps the current concern is simply because Cuadrilla is not a long established company in Fylde, but is attempting to establish itself, and some see its generosity as having ulterior motives.

To be honest, we can't get excited about declarations having to be made because you're a member of the rugby club, or a parish councillor. As long as the donations are made in public and councillors declare them as such, and we all know about them, we can take them into account in our assessment of how well our councillor is working for us.

But we're less happy about the prejudicial interests declared by Cllr Fiddler and especially by Cllr Threlfall though.

We wonder especially about Cllr Threlfall's position as the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for the Environment - where he may be required to take an Individual Member Decision and where, when he does so, he alone is acting *as* the whole of Fylde Council. He is also, by that position, the Council's spokesman on Environmental Matters, which includes fracking.

As much as we may like him as a person, we find it difficult to reconcile the declaration of prejudicial interest for both him and Cllr Fiddler with their holding the positions of Portfolio Holder in the Cabinet, especially when Monday's prejudicial declaration was the first time we have heard it, two and a bit years after the event.

Perhaps it was because neither had been called upon to take part in a debate or discussion and decision about fracking or Cuadrilla during that two and a half years, and Cllr Mrs Oades' motion last Monday was the first opportunity they had had to make a declaration.

We understand there are calls for Cllr Threlfall to resign his Portfolio, and the matter is reaching the regional news media level, so maybe there is more to come in this matter.

We also suspect we may not yet have heard all the declarations of interest.

Looking at what we might describe as the other end of a scale, we can do nothing but accord praise for the approach adopted by Cllr John Singleton in this matter.

He was a member of the Task and Finish group looking into shale gas for FBC, but he found a conflict of interest arising when he had (nothing more than) a personal interest, because Cuadrilla donated funds toward the replacement of Weeton Village Hall where he was one of the nine members of the committee who manage the Village Hall.

Once the Village Hall Committee had made its decision to accept and had received the grant, a conflict of interest became evident to Cllr Singleton who felt he could not sit on that Task and Finish group knowing he was part of a different committee which had accepted monies from Cuadrilla, and he immediately resigned from the Task and Finish Group.

We understand Cllr Singleton still believes his decision in this matter was correct, because he thinks it may have influenced his perception of Cuadrilla.

To our way of thinking, that is an honourable and exemplary way to proceed.

He had no need to resign. His was only a personal interest. But we think his conduct has defined the 'Gold Standard' for Fylde's elected members and declarations of interest.

So, having received the declarations of interest, the Council meeting last Monday proceeded through 'Previous Minutes' and Mayor's announcements etc, to hear Cllr Mrs Oades' question, which was:

"Can the Portfolio Holder, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer, give assurance that all councillors holding office within the area of Fylde Borough, have declared the interests they should have declared with regard to payments or benefits made to them by Cuadrilla or its agents?"

Now, with what we've already said, readers might wonder why an experienced Cllr like Mrs Oades was asking such a question - when it is the responsibility of individual members to make their own decisions in such matters.

What we think she was doing here was requiring officers - (and in particular the Monitoring Officer who is responsible for 'whistlerblowing' if members are about to, or have done, something unlawful or unconstitutional) - to say they knew of no councillor who should have made a declaration but had not done so.

(The Monitoring Officer is also Fylde's 'Standards Officer' and that position she gets to hear all the allegations that we and others have heard as gossip about particular members of both Fylde, and some Parish Councils (for whom she is also the 'Standards Officer'))

We do know there has been a flurry of emails from the Monitoring Officer about declaring interests and which were sent to all Councillors in the last week or so, and perhaps the fulsome declarations last Monday night came as a result of her reminders of the need to make declarations - in which case Queen Elizabeth's strategy is to be commended.

The answer to the question was given by Princess Karen Buckley who (as we predicted, was using her best 'sweetness and light' manner) explained what the regulations were, then said it was up to individuals to decide whether it was necessary to declare an interest or not

Which is precisely what the regulations say of course.

It was the answer she wanted to give, but it didn't address the question as to whether the Monitoring officer was satisfied.

But the fact that the question had been asked had made the difference.

Princess Karen's answer was largely irrelevant.

Councillors who ask questions get a follow up question, and Cllr Mrs Oades took the opportunity ask for the matter to be added to the Parish Council Liaison Committee for discussion there as well.

Next came the Public Questions.

The first was one which implored Fylde to ask Lancashire County Council to make ‘green completion’ (see July 2014 Fracking Update for details) mandatory for all phases of the exploration, and to press Lancashire County Council and the Government to introduce regulation specific to on-shore high volume fracking with regular and independent monitoring of fracking operations to ensure the environment in respect of neighbouring residents and local wildlife is not adversely affected.

The answer came from Cllr Tommy Thelfall, Portfolio Holder for the Environment.

At this point readers may wonder why someone who had just declared prejudicial interest was answering such a question.

We briefly wondered the same thing, but then realised that the 'Public Question Time' is not in the decision-making part of the Agenda, so having a prejudicial interest or not probably doesn't count - at least as far as the Council's rules are concerned.

Cllr Threlfall read his prepared text and said there had been almost four years work by two different groups at the Council focussing on regulation and monitoring of shale gas activity. He said "the primary objective........has been to ensure that in the event of any shale gas activity there will be full regulation, maximum safety compliance with regular independent monitoring and restoration of the local environment."

He added "these two groups have looked into all the regulatory, health and community impacts. The Council is a statutory consultee on the two current applications in Fylde, and the environmental concerns that you have highlighted will be included when considering the response, with the quality of life for local residents, and the quality of local environment being the two primary concerns for councillors."

He continued "Safety regulation has dominated the agenda and I have asked if there is any shale gas exploration in Fylde that the regulatory bodies are located in Fylde, on the doorstep where the activity is taking place......"

He clearly regarded that as an answer to the question.

To be honest, we didn't.

(And we suspect the questioner would have felt the same).

But what it did do, was set the tone (which we had entirely expected) for the evening, where Councillors spoke, and the public gallery sat, for the most part patiently, and in polite silence, whilst they spoke. But there was much shaking of heads in the public gallery as politicians sidestepped questions by saying what had been done rather than answering the question that had been asked.

It also showed the electorate who were present, what sort of councillors were representing them.

We were once told by a senior official of a national public body, that when folk turn out to attend meetings like this, you can take it that each one there represents the views and concerns of 80 to 100 others who couldn't attend themselves but who are anxious to hear all about what happened.

That being the case, we think there are now something like 2,000 folk in Fylde who are spreading the word about the competence and empathy with which each of the Councillors spoke on their issue.

The next question was about planning in Warton - we will address this in a future article.

The next question was from the lady who leads the Preston New Road (Little Plumpton) group and she asked: "...have any of our local Councillors taken money or benefit from Cuadrilla?”

Once again, as we expected, Cllr Mrs Buckley was deputed to answer. She said "I am committed to openness and transparency in all of the Council's business, and this includes openness about interests."

There we go again with the sidestep, the questioner wanted to know about each of the 51 Councillors, not just Mrs Buckley.

She went on to explain that when the law about interests was changed in 2012, Fylde adopted a code of conduct that required councillors to register and declare a wider range of interests than suggested by Government guidance. She said this reflected the Council's approach to transparency.

She went on to say "I have already outlined, in my earlier answer, interests registered by councillors under the code are published on the internet as are individual declarations made at meetings regarding specific topics"

She continued "As there is a notice of motion on the Council agenda this evening, relating to shale gas extraction, I would expect you have heard members who may have an interest in this matter to have either registered it, or, as appropriate, to declare an interest at the time it comes up for discussion. Mr Mayor we have heard those interests declared here tonight."

Exactly as we predicted, this again was a 'sweetness and light' presentation of exactly what Cllr Buckley wanted to say, but it failed to deal with root of the question.

The key problem here is that the questioner wanted answers from each of the councillors present, but this dreadful Cabinet system of operation has introduced a Constitution that specifically excludes any possibility of questions being addressed to anyone except the Leader or a Cabinet member.

Fylde's current constitution specifically precludes questions to anyone else.

Cllr Mrs Buckley could have invited anyone who wished to do so to make a short personal statement, but she chose not to do this. She simply stonewalled the question with the statement she wanted to deliver, and there is, of course no comeback - no second question - for the public.

She sat down confident in the arrogance of her position that no-one could challenge her.

It's no wonder she can afford to do 'sweetness and light'

Those present must have been asking themselves how can it be that we have allowed local democracy to become the fiefdom of untouchables?

How can it be considered democratic when it is not possible to formally address, and have answered, a question of the Councillor that you elected to represent you?

This is not how Councils are supposed to work, and the blame lies squarely with the ruling Conservative group on Fylde council who implemented this awful Cabinet system against the expressed will of the people of Fylde, and who have manipulated their Constitution to secure their grip on power, and to manage the release of information.

We have no doubt their arrogant abuse of power will come back to haunt them.

The final question of the session was jointly from the chairs of both the Roseacre Wood and the Preston New Road groups. They asked "....What actions have you taken to seek independent and impartial advice (other than from the operators and government agencies who have a vested interest) to help support your constituents and to address the potentially damaging impact [of fracking] on our environment and protect our tourism and agriculture sectors"

In essence they were asking why are you not helping us - the people who elected you - to find justifications and arguments to support us in trying to have this stopped.

The answer that the Fylde Conservative group probably didn't want to give is that they appear to care more about loyalty to their party (which itself is irrevocably wedded to the idea that the north of England will have a second industrial revolution to provide shale gas needed for the rest of the country) than they do about the people that elected them.

But, as we all know, that cannot be said, (because it would frighten the horses) so instead, a bland, motherhood and apple-pie answer would be the order of the day.

Readers will already know what to expect as the answer by now.

We daresay most of our readers would be able to write it for the Environment Portfolio Holder to read out.

What Cllr Threlfall actually said was "As I stated in my response to the earlier question, the Council has had in place since September 2012, a shale gas member working group, and previously had an extensive task and finish group discussions over 12 months, which have had presentations, representations and site visits from a wide range of organisations and individuals including operators and Government agencies, but more importantly, local anti-fracking groups, independent regulators, Keele University YouGo, Arup and other local authorities have experience in the fracking industry.

The cross-party working group has focused on every aspect of the regulation, safety, environmental impact, monitoring, transport and community impacts. Myself and many of the working group members have attended numerous meetings in the local community to listen to all the views of the local people.

[At this point the public became restless and patently did not believe what they were being told. From where we were sitting, his words were drowned out by a chorus of disapproval]

I can assure residents that the Shale Gas member Working Group has sought and received independent impartial advice that will be used to inform any consultation responses to the current applications lodges with the County Council. Thank You Mr Mayor"

At which point he sat down having not answered the question at all which asked about impartial advice *other than from the operators and government agencies*"

As he sat down, there was much and plainly-evident disbelief at what he had said.

Then we came to item 7, Queen Elisabeth's motion calling for a moratorium on fracking.

It said simply "“Fylde Borough Council requests the Government to put a moratorium in place in relation to fracking operations until such time that all regulatory, health and community impacts are resolved.”

She gave a bravura performance, even by her own high standards.

Readers can follow this link to read what Cllr Mrs Oades said in full or indeed you can visit YouTube to watch the video (which is at the start of part 2 of the recording).

Evoking the independent sprit of Boudicea, her speech had fire in its belly and was Churchillian in stature when compared with the mealy-mouthed platitudes that has been spun out by others before her.

Introducing her motion she said "....I am aware of at least one Member who has gone into print to complain that he feels I am wasting his time by prompting this debate but I refuse to apologise for voicing the concerns of those who elected us."

She said the Motion was neither anti-fracking nor pro-fracking, it was not political; it was intended to appeal to the Government to ensure that this very new technology is properly assessed and regulated.

Turning to the role of the County Council, (which others had emphasised would determine the planning permission, she said she was "...very well aware of the fact that it will be the County Council which determines the planning applications, but I feel that it’s this Council, as the representatives of the areas affected, which should, and can, make representations to Government."

She went on to stress the limitations we have previously alluded to that Government has imposed on the County Council, saying "The County Council may only consider the land use aspects of planning and must trust that the regulatory agencies have done a proper job; it’s therefore for us to try to make sure that this is the case."

The point she was making here was that it is up to Fylde Borough, *NOT*  the County Council, to respond on behalf of Fylde's residents, to the proposals and consultations of the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency and other regulatory bodies, but Fylde seems unprepared or unwilling to do this at least so far as we can see.

She called on Fylde to urge the County Council to make “green completion” mandatory for all phases of the exploration.

She said "There are major shortcomings in the regulatory oversight regarding local environmental and public health risks in relation to the migration of fluids, flaring and disposal of waste and given all the question marks which still exist about the processes used in fracking the Government must be urged to put an independent and thorough regulatory regime in place and then make that regime part of our legislation."

She concluded by saying "I urge those of you who care for our communities to support this Notice of Motion, the first two applications are in Roseacre and Little Plumpton, but there could soon be one coming to a field near you. As I have previously stated, this Motion is not antifracking, only pro-safety, we must ensure that there are no adverse impacts on the environment or on the health of the people you and I represent."

And she sat down to overwhelming and sustained support applause, cheers and a standing ovation from almost all the residents in the Public Gallery.

She was seconded by Cllr Heather Speak who reserved her right to speak at the conclusion of the debate.

She said "I've been to all these meetings but I've not been convinced by the regulators"

First to speak on the motion was Cllr Ken Hopwood. He said that two years ago he proposed that a moratorium should be added to the original Shale Gas Working Group's recommendations on fracking, but his proposal was rejected.

He said "I still believe that at the time my proposal was the right approach, as shortly after, a temporary moratorium was put in place following the events that took place at the Preece Hall site" adding "I am pleased that some members are now supporting the call for a further moratorium."

He explained his rationale for supporting the motion and held up a stick of 'Cuadrilla Rock' which, he said was positive promotion aid aimed at children.

He spoke of the Gold Standard for shale gas but said no-one could tell him what it was. He complained that Government spoke about regulation but only issued guidelines. He said "I want to see guidelines become statutory regulation coupled with enforcement, I do not want self regulation to become the norm"

He concluded "I will end with an extract from a letter sent to my home which contains the following quotation - 'At a time when many feel their way of life is being challenged, I hope you will agree with me and my fellow Directors that we must fight for the Britain we believe in. We all have a clear idea of the kind of future we would wish our children and grandchildren to have.'

Surely this is what concerned residents of Fylde are doing today.

The letter, by the way, was signed by the Marquis of Salisbury on behalf of the Conservative Party Foundation, and for these reasons I will support Cllr Oades' notice of motion."


More solid applause.

Councillor Cllr Mrs Chew, said the motion was simply about ensuring adequate regulation *before* the fracking starts.

Then Conservative Cllr Nigel Goodrich was called to speak.

Our previous experience of hearing him led us to believe he was one of the less fundamentalist members of the Conservative group, and was willing to hear the opinions of others and adapt accordingly.

But sadly on this occasion all that was washed away as we became more and more angry at what he did.

It is our view that, on behalf of the Conservative group, he deployed an administrative device that should never have been allowed to stand.

He said spoke quickly - as if knowing he needed to get a lot in before he was challenged. He said he thought Cllr Mrs Oades' motion had been overtaken by events regarding fast-track licenses and the situation in Ukraine.

He said Fylde's Shale Gas Working Group had created recommendations which had been taken up, and they had been listened to. He thought they had perhaps even been punching above their weight. He said "To agree to a moratorium I don't think would reflect well on that process, and I'm surprised that if Cllr Oades believes so passionately - and she patently does - that she didn't seek to alter the notice of motion passed at Lancashire County Council on this very subject in October."

He went on to say "They [LCC] are the Planning Authority, we are, just, though a very well informed just, a statutory consultee".

He then hit the meat of what he had to say. He said:

"Therefore I'd like to suggest a new stroke revised notice of motion, and in fact I've copied much of what was agreed in Lancashire County Council in October."

He then said "My proposal is that the Borough Council notes the enormous amount of work put in by initially the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee, followed by the Task and Finish, and still ongoing as the Shale Gas Working Group. These groups actively listen, question debated with geologists, the industry Cuadrilla, representatives of the groups against, regulatory authorities, and government departments, such that we've been successful in making some of the debate in creating recommendations which have been taken up, their credibility ensuring an audience who listened and noted.

The ongoing debate, sorry, Fylde Borough Council also note the ongoing debate about the benefits and disbenefits extracting onshore gas resources, the local environmental impacts, the large amount of water needed for hydraulic fracturing to extract shale, that concerns are raised of groundwater contamination as a result of fracking where well integrity is compromised, the potential impact of noise, visual intrusion and air pollution and heavy traffic on communities close to fracking sites, concerns over potential direct and indirect impacts on human health and wellbeing, and awaits investigation into those concerns.

The potential economic benefits need to be carefully balanced against the potential disbenefits to other sectors such as tourism and agriculture, and note that there are supporters and objectors in all our wards, that the planning discussion group chaired by Councillor Fiddler should, in the first instance, propose the response of the LCC consultation, and that the task and finish group, chaired by Cllr Mulholland should be heavily involved because of the work we've done and the knowledge.

Finally, we suggest that if Councillor Oades wishes, she should, acting as her County capacity, she should perhaps present her notice of motion to Lancashire County Council as the relevant Planning body on this matter. And I do have a seconder."

A stunned silence overtook the room as he sat down. The public gallery (and more than a few councillors) simply could not believe what they had heard.

In effect he sought to hi-jack a motion to have a moratorium and to propose something completely different - what we call a 'Monty Python' resolution (which those of a certain age will understand).

He wanted to replace Cllr Oades' motion with a proposal that changed its sense completely.

He sought to replace what she had said with a proposition that would simply note there were potential benefits and disbenefits to fracking, and that Cllr Fiddler (the Portfolio Holder for Planning), should propose the response of the LCC consultation.

Readers will note at this point that Cllr Fiddler had declared a personal and prejudicial interest because of a payment made to him by Cuadrilla. He had decided that was a prejudicial interest for him and he had left the room because of that.

We fail to see how he could properly be given a role that involves chairing a committee (even if you call it a 'planning discussion group') to propose the response to the LCC consultation when he himself had declared that his judgement in this matter was compromised and prejudiced because of Cuadrilla's payment to him.

What followed the stunned moment of silence got even worse.

Cllr Duffy raised a point of order and said "The point of order is that, basically, that's not an amendment to Cllr Oades' motion. If Cllr Goodrich wants to propose that motion then there's nothing stopping him doing it, but that's not an amendment, that's just a complete re-write, and not even really on the same topic at all. It briefly mentions it but there's a lot more in there. That is nothing more than a cynical ploy to stop having this motion debated properly"

The Mayor - who was at his first meeting as Mayor - said "I've heard what you've said, and I also have a copy of what is referred to as an amended notice of motion, the words word for word, what Councillor Goodrich has said. I'm just going to ask for some legal advice, but in the meantime, can I turn to the next speaker, who is Cllr Chedd please."

The meeting is about to start

At this point, the Chief Executive can be heard to say "..., cant do that. If the amendment is proposed and seconded....." and at this point he was interrupted by Cllr Chedd who said "Mr Chairman" and who was then himself interrupted by Cllr Collins who said "If that is an amendment, surely it should be debated. You can't.... If that's a valid amendment it should be debated, if it's not, then we carry on with the debate"

The Mayor replies "OK, then I need a seconder for this amendment in order that we can have it debated independently"

Cllr Collins responded "Mr Mayor, can we have the legal advice first, I don't think that's a valid amendment"

The Mayor replied "That's where I was looking. You'd prefer things to be held in abeyance until we have that advice would you?, rather than continue? Your choice"

Cllr Collins responded "Mr Mayor, we need to get the advice from the legal officer to see if that was a valid amendment or not. If it is we debate the amendment. If it is not, we carry on with Cllr Oades'."

The Mayor says "Quite happy with that. I will await that opinion."

The Chief Executive said "Thank you. I'd like to remind Cllr Collins that when you're on full Council you must go through the Chair and please don't just shout out, we do need to keep business in order. The legal advice is that the amendment would be valid."

Another stunned silence was broken by the Mayor who said, "That being the case, do you have a seconder? Who is that? Cllr Nash, would you like to formally second this motion." then he hesitated before correcting himself and saying "This revised amendment."

The Brigadier did so, and considerably raised the temperature in the public gallery by referring to the energy strike in 1970 and the effect that had then (as though this was justification for fracking now).

He did the same thing when he said "I would also like to commend the work our MP Mark Menzies has done".... at which point he had to stop speaking because of the loud and evident disagreement from those in the public gallery ".... in bringing this to the attention of Parliament."

We noted a representative of Mr Menzies at the Council meeting, so he will get to hear first hand what took place.

The Mayor intervened and addressed the public gallery saying "Please let Cllr Nash speak without interruption." The Brigadier concluded his seconding.

Then Cllr Oades was called to speak, she said "I cannot believe that can be considered as an amendment under the terms of the Constitution, but none of us has seen the amendment. It should be in writing and I'm asking for an adjournment whilst we're all given a copy of that, because most of us didn't really hear it properly enough to be able to debate it"

The Mayor, having been advised privately by the Chief Executive said he appreciated the difficult situation on both side he said "I was given a copy just as this meeting started, and I agree that it would have been helpful if everyone could have had a copy. We are not here in our own premises and as far as I'm aware, we don't have a photocopier available to us"

Cllr Goodrich was waving a handful of papers and the Mayor asked if they were copies and how many he had. The response seemed to be "enough" and one of the meeting clerks took the papers from him. The Mayor called a brief adjournment whilst the copies were distributed.

The Deputy Mayor can be heard to say "Its far too long that amendment" before the Chief Executive switched off the top table microphone.

We noted with interest that the distribution of papers omitted any of the Conservative members, suggesting they already had a copy of what Cllr Goodrich had said, and giving us cause to believe that he was speaking on a matter which had already been debated and decided behind closed doors in a Conservative Group meeting prior to the Council meeting, and he was simply the parrot.

He's in a good position to do unpopular things.

Last year, he moved home to Bolton le Sands near Carnforth, but rather than cause a by-election which might have put one of the Conservative seats at risk, he has continued to operate as a Fylde councillor by travelling to Fylde for meetings, and to deal with constituency needs. We expect he will not stand as a councillor in the next May's elections and, if that is the case, he has little to lose, (other than perhaps self respect), by advocating the unpopular line.

And so it was that, gradually, what was not an amendment to a motion gradually became accepted to become one.

We believe it was not an amendment partly because of the way it was introduced, but more especially because it did not amend the wording of Cllr Oades' motion.

It completely replaced it.

The accepted wisdom in these matters is that what Cllr Goodrich proposed was a 'counter-motion' and' as such, should not have been accepted at all at that point, let alone as an amendment.

Unfortunately, Fylde's legal interpretation of such matters is littered with the failure to accept the wisdom of others.

This may be because of an unseen agenda, or because of incompetence, or perhaps as a result of political pressure; none of which is an attractive option to consider.

The basis of allowing it to become an amendment is rooted in Fylde's constitution, the relevant part of the current version of which says:

"12.7 Amending a motion
(a) When speaking on a motion, a member may propose an amendment to it. An amendment is a proposal to change the motion that is being discussed by taking words out of it or adding words to it or both, as long as the effect of the amendment could not be achieved by defeating the motion."


We have no doubt that best practice - and the underlying intention here - is that the scope of an amendment is to change a small part of the wording, whilst retaining the overall sense of the proposition.

Those who entirely disagree with the proposition can dispose of it simply by voting against it.

It should not be acceptable to replace the sense of the proposition with something completely different.

But the advice from the Council's legal officer seemed to us to be based on a literal interpretation that, because you can remove words and add words, you can therefore remove them all and add some that are completely different. What nonsense that is, it denies the very purpose which is to *amend* - not to replace.

We regard this as a distortion of the advice that should have been given.

Fylde's Constitution used to embody the accepted wisdom about amendments much better than the present one does.

For example, in the 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007 versions of its Constitution, the relevant part said :

"13.6 Amendments to motions
(a) An amendment to a motion must be relevant to the motion and will either be:

(i) to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration:
(ii) to leave out words;
(iii) to leave out words and insert or add others; or
(iv) to insert or add words.
as long as the effect of (ii) to (iv) is not to negate the motion."


It was no surprise to us that it said this - because that is the exact wording recommended for use in the Model Constitution for Local Authorities issued by the Government's Department of Communities and Local Government.

But in 2008, Fylde changed the wording to read:

"13.7 Amending a motion
13.7.1 When speaking on a motion, a member may propose an amendment to it. An amendment is a proposal to change the motion that is being discussed by taking words out of it or adding words to it or both, as long as the effect of the amendment could not be achieved by defeating the motion"


And it remains worded in that way to-day.

Readers will no doubt form their own view as to whether the intention of the 2008 re-wording was to make the reading more user-friendly or to change the basis on which amendments could be accepted.

We wondered what other Council Constitutions might have on this matter....

Blackpool says
"14.6 Amendments to motions
(a) An amendment to a motion must be relevant to the motion and will either be:
(i) to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration;
(ii) to leave out words;
(iii) to leave out words and insert or add others; or
(iv) to insert or add words.
As long as the effect of (ii) to (iv) is not to negate the motion and does not introduce a new proposal into it.


Wyre says
17.6 Amendments to Motions
(a) An amendment to a motion must be relevant to the motion and will either be:
(i) to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration;
(ii) to leave out words and/or insert or add others
as long as the effect of (ii) is not to negate the motion.


Preston says
14.6 Amendments To Motions
(i) An amendment to a motion must be relevant to the motion and will either be:
(i) to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration;
(ii) to leave out words;
(iii) to leave out words and insert or add others; or
(iv) to insert or add words
as long as the effect of (ii) to (iv) is not to negate the motion.


South Ribble says
(7) Amendments to motions
An amendment shall be relevant to the motion and shall be either:-
(a) to refer a subject of debate to a committee for consideration or re-consideration;
(b) to leave out words;
(c) to leave out words and insert or add others;
(d) to insert or add words;
but such omission, insertion or addition of words shall not have the effect of negating the motion before the Council nor of introducing a new proposal.


Perhaps this will help our readers decide what Fylde's Constitution *should* say and,  perhaps more importantly, what advice the officers ought to have given to the Mayor.

We are entirely convinced that the grounds for treating what Cllr Goodrich said as an amendment were spurious, and they appeared partisan toward the ruling group of which Cllr Goodrich is a member.

When the meeting was re-convened, the Mayor said he had taken advice and had read from the Constitution, and since they were removing and adding parts, he said "I accept - in fact I have no alternative but to accept - the legal opinion that this is a valid motion" which he then corrected to "amendment" and called Cllr Oades to speak.

She said she wanted further clarification because she said "I would make the point that if our Constitution allows somebody to take all my words out and replace them with his own, then the Constitution is rubbish and needs to be looked at".

Cllr Speak said she was so disappointed with the amendment and looking toward the Conservative group she said "and if this goes through tonight, then shame on you"

Cllr Mulholland asked to speak. He said he didn't think he would be getting any applause. He said there was no way he could go along with a call for a moratorium adding "It's not that I don't agree with much of what Cllr Mrs Oades has said. I do. In fact I agree with most of what she said. I don't believe the amended notice of motion is really strong enough. I do think it's time that this council made possibly more of a noise about the issue of fracking"

He said he didn't want it to be a political vote and he wanted every councillor in the room to vote with their conscience and not with their party.

Adding that "I also think it's sad that we have to have these declarations of interest. I think it's extremely sad that Cuadrilla are going round throwing money about. I don't think it does us any good, I don't think it looks good. It doesn't sit right with me, I must confess, for parishes, rugby clubs and community groups and 'in blooms' to be going out with a begging bowl and taking donations. I have purposely kept myself clear of both anti's and pro's and I've kept myself clear of Cuadrilla."

He went on to describe all the experience he had from the first days of the Community Focus Group (which he chairs) 's involvement with fracking, and said that the common thread running through all the discussions and debates he had been involved with was the feeling that regulation specific to high volume fracking is not there.

he said "Mr Mayor, we have said this all along, Cllr Threlfall has said it, the Cabinet has endorsed it, the Council has endorsed it, we have said all along that we demand an independent monitoring regime of strict, specific regulations for fracking. This has been our official line.

What we've fallen short of - and I will still be falling short of tonight - is asking for a moratorium, because I believe if we ask for a moratorium, then we are losing our credibility. That will go in the bin. This Government is hell bent on this dash for gas. There's no question about that. There's no question that if anything, regulations could be relaxed. It's been made easier to get licences. Laws are being changed to make it easier to access sites under people's land. This all worries me.

And amongst all of this, there's one group of people I don't trust, and believe me that's not Cuadrilla, it's the Government. They have no trust from me whatsoever."

He went on to cite a 2012 brochure from the Department of Energy and Climate Change where, he said, at the foot of page eight it quotes a review done by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering which said "The Health and Safety risk associated with hydraulic fracturing as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation."

He said that was in 2012, and asked "what's happened to it, it's not been taken on board, and it doesn't look like it is going to be."

"So, I can't go with the amendment I'm sorry, its not enough. I do genuinely believe that a request for a moratorium will get filed in the waste bin, I think it's pointless. I think by far the best way forward - and I would actually move an amendment, and this is an amendment, to Cllr Oades' motion that takes away the desire to have a moratorium, asks for the same things she's asking for, *as a matter of urgency*, and certainly before there is any potential for commercial production of shale gas."

When the Mayor asked if he had a seconder, Cllr Ben Aitken stood and said "Yes he has"

This was quite a turn up, and we were torn, being close to both perspectives.

Regular readers will know we have a lot of respect for Cllr Mulholland. We don't always agree with him, but we do respect the fact that he is a deep thinker and he has usually thought through his position, not reached it superficially.

Our preference would have been to stay with the call for the moratorium until proper regulation was in place, chiefly because we don't think *any* argument advanced by Fylde to the present Government will carry any weight at all.

The National Conservative party has made up it's mind and, like HS2, it's going for it irrespective of the consequences. And if that's the case, then Fylde might as well support its community and be able to say to Government, at a later date - there we are. We told you so, Now fix it properly.

It was also noteworthy that Cllr Aitken (a Conservative), who would usually be expected to support the party line, appeared to have broken ranks to support Cllr Mulholland's proposed amendment (unless the second amendment was a put up job which we don't think it was).

His support meant it was likely to go through.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood spoke next. She said "Thank you Mr Mayor. I have to say that I truly believe that this is not an amendment, and it's just a tactical block to Cllr Oades' notice of motion. I know you're not going to agree with me, and I know you're going to say you've taken legal advice."

She went on to say that Cuadrilla had done a very slick PR job by giving monies to a range of local organisations and some private individuals for going on their land - including some councillors.

She spoke of the concern from local people and of the letter from the Roseacre Action Group who set out unanswered questions under no less than twenty-five headings. Cllr Silverwood argued that the questions alone sent out a very loud message as to why fracking cannot go ahead until all of these critical questions are answered and we can be assured that the government is protecting us all from the potential hazards of fracking.

She also said "I recently attended a meeting with Mark Menzies. He was asked by a farmer what the UK's position is in not signing up to an EU policy of a total ban on the export of food - arable or pasture - if at any time there is a disaster at any of the fracking sites in this country. He had not heard anything about this and we left him writing to DEFRA. As yet, I have not had a response from him. This would destroy the farming communities. This would make foot and mouth and BSE look like minor blips to the farmers."

Cllr David Chedd said "I'd just like members, before they consider this notice of motion, sorry, this amendment, and vote on this amendment to just consider what they would have thought of this if it had been on our agenda papers to start with this evening instead of Cllr Oades' motion. It would have made no sense whatsoever. It says nothing. It's not asking for anything worthwhile to be done. Cllr Mulholland says the moratorium will go straight in the bin. This will go in the bin a lot faster."

He went on to say "Even if the Government choose to ignore a call for a moratorium - with all the good reasons that Cllr Oades has explained for doing so, it still sends a message about how people in this borough feel about this whole business. I will not be supporting the amendment"

Cllr Ben Aitken said he felt he must support Cllr Mulholland. He said there was already a moratorium in place (We don't think that is the case), and a further moratorium would be a mistake. He seconded Cllr Mulholland's amendment.

The treatment of amendments (quite apart from defining when they are amendments) also got some stick at this meeting.

Once again this arose because Fylde changed its Constitution and now (as with defining what comprises an amendment), it has an arrangement for dealing with them that is not the most commonly found.

It's previous, and the most traditional method, was that

  • A proposition was made
  • A valid amendment we'll call Amendment 1 was proposed and seconded. When that happens, debate on the original proposition stops, and members start to debate Amendment 1.
  • Suppose now that someone agrees with most of Amendment 1 but thinks it would be better, and would get wider support, with a small change to it. They can propose an amendment to the amendment to see if the majority agree with them.
  • If that is seconded by someone else, this becomes Amendment No 2, and at this point, debate on Amendment No1 stops until there has been debate (if it is needed) and a vote is taken on Amendment No 2.
  • If Amendment No 2 is not supported by a vote, it falls and is disregarded.
  • We then return to the debate on Amendment No 1 where that can be determined, (or where other amendments may be proposed) until everything is voted on and either Amendment No 1 is dismissed for lack of support, or it succeeds and becomes the (new) 'substantive motion' which is then subject to a confirming vote.

In effect, the traditional system 'nests' amendments inside each other, always dealing with the most recent, and having decisions taken that back out of the amendments in reverse order to which they were proposed.

It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it isn't, and it's very sensible.

Fylde's current system takes Amendment No 1 and debates it until there is a vote on it. If other Amendments come in the meantime, they are temporarily 'parked' until either Amendment No 1 fails, or it amends the original proposition, in which case Amendment No 2 is tested against it.

From what we can see, both systems are valid ways of going about it, and they appear to arrive at the same result, but the way Fylde has chosen to do it now is probably better for those with short attention spans.

But because Fylde's more experienced councillors are more used to the traditional system, there can be confusion sometimes, as there was last Monday.

So in response to Cllr Aitkin's seconding of Cllr Mulholand's amendment - (which was in fact Amendment No 2 after Cllr Goodrich's first amendment), the mayor said he would 'park' Cllr Mulholland's amendment until Cllr Goodrich's had been dealt with.

As the original proposer of the motion, Cllr Mrs Oades was invited to sum up on Cllr Goodrich's amendment.

Speaking without notes this time, and clearly from the heart as well as her very able head, she said "As my colleagues have already said, this [Cllr Goodrich's amendment] means nothing. It's rubbish. It isn't even proper English, so I would ask you tonight to consider that before you vote. It's seeking - I think - to throw everything back to the County Council, and the County Council can *only* consider the land use issues in relation to these planning applications. They *cannot* consider all the regulatory things. They are expected to consult with the agencies who have actually to deal with the regulatory part of fracking.

It also states - I think - that this council already achieved greater regulation. Well if it has, please tell me what it has achieved, because those of us that have been living and breathing fracking recently, and those of us in the wards affected - it's in my County Council ward - have been living and breathing fracking, know that the regulations are still not in place. They are still not effective. they are going to allow the industry to self regulate in many, many ways.

That *cannot* be right.

That's why I would ask each and every one of you not to support this [waving Cllr Goodrich's amendment], and if you can't support my notice of motion *don't* support this one, give Cllr Mulholland a chance to put something forward, because at least an amendment put forward by him may - and I think probably will - take account of most of the things I put forward other than the moratorium.

So please *don't* support this amendment tonight, let Cllr Mulholland have a go at another amendment and see if at least we can represent our communities and try to safeguard them in the regulatory nature of fracking."

The Mayor asked if Council was happy with a show of hands vote, and the response was a call for a recorded vote - and more than the required five hands went up for it.

The Mayor (cleverly we thought) said he did not intend to vote in the first round - implying that he would use his vote as a tiebreaker if the vote was equal. This also meant he did not disclose his own view on the matter and appeared to remain more impartial.

The recorded vote was [we will add the vote on this item when the official figures are published]

The result was: 20 votes for Cllr Goodrich's amendment, and 17 against the amendment, with three abstentions, so the amendment was carried and became the (new) substantive motion which was open for debate - and against which, further amendments could be considered.

So the Mayor then turned to Cllr Mulholland and asked if he had given consideration to his further amendment.

Cllr Mulholland said he assumed it would have to be an amendment to what is now the substantive motion and he said "So the only amendment I would make to that is that I would suggest that we add in there that Fylde Borough Council requests the Government as a matter of urgency to make sure that operational best practices will be....

[At this point it all became too much for one lady who was sitting at the furthest end of the room from the entrance. She got up and bustled out of the public gallery furthest from the door. She was clearly very angry. When she reached the doorway, she could be heard to say "let me out of here, I've never been to anything so.... let me out...." and she left the hall.]

..... implemented and enforced through regulation and that regulatory health and community impacts are resolved to the satisfaction of Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council, and that the regulation be specific to high volume hydraulic fracking, and be independently monitored."

At this point another lady got up and walked out.

The seconder (Cllr Aitken) them seemed to dispute what Cllr Mulholland had said, and Cllr Aitkin read out what he thought he had seconded.

Chaos threatened.

The Mayor said they needed to be singing from the same hymn-sheets and he asked for a precise, concise statement that everybody could understand.

We might have dealt with it differently. We might have asked whether Cllr Mulholland has another seconder for his amendment if Cllr Aitken was now unwilling to do so, but the Mayor was in charge, and after a little more debate he agreed to a short adjournment whilst the wording of the amendment was refined.

Cllr Mulholland then put his revised amendment, which said:

"It is to put as an addendum at the bottom of the substantive motion. That Fylde Borough Council request Government as a matter of urgency to make sure that operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation which is specific to high volume hydraulic fracturing, and which is independently monitored and is enshrined in legislation"

There were widespread calls from the public gallery for the word "onshore" to be added.

Cllr Mulholland and Cllr Aitken indicated assent (though we think that was to Mr Curtis' reading of it, not to the addition of 'onshore'

Debate then began on that amendment.

Cllr Keith Beckett said it was all fraught with danger and he was worried what would happen to our children and grandchildren. He said it frightened him that they were going to drill up Preston Road near a reservoir. He spoke of a water supply 500 feet down near Woodplumpton, from which Fylde Water Board used to extract, take out the lime and sell it to the farmers, and use the water for human consumption. He worried that another Abbeystead might happen (collected methane exploding in an underground chamber). He said he knew some of the problems. He spoke of first hand experience of a club in Kirkham where he is Chairman and said the dance floor lifted after the explosions for seismic testing, and the lights falling down on the stage, and when the club went for compensation they wouldn't pay it, but, he said "....they turned around and said 'you can go to our community fund for a grant', and if we'd have took that grant, we'd have been paid off like other people." He called for a policy of 'safety first'.

Cllr Duffy said he had mostly wanted to speak to Cllr Oades' proposition so he would just say that he thought they had missed a chance to try and influence here. He said "We all know, or we should know, that self regulation - which is really what we've got now - doesn't work, and I'll just finish with three words 'the banking industry."

And he gave notice of a further small amendment, what he called 'a genuine amendment' should this amendment succeed.

Cllr Ken Hopwood spoke to Cllr Mulholland's amendment, saying he and Cllr Mulholland were not a million miles apart, but over the last four years he had not seen any visible improvement in terms of regulation. He said the Government promise, and talk about, regulation, but they are not delivering and, as a consequence of that, he would have to vote against Cllr Mulholland's proposal, because he supported the moratorium that he had proposed two years ago, but which was not supported at that time.

Cllr Peter Hardy said if all the councillors in the room had voted with their consciences, the original motion would have gone through. He said party politics were being played out. He was then interrupted by the Mayor who seemed to want to keep things on a low and even keel, and asked him to speak to the motion, to which Cllr Hardy asked for a recorded vote so the public would know who has voted for what.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood was next. She has a deservedly huge following of supporters and is developing to be a very able orator - much like Cllr Mrs Oades, but perhaps she has a keener sense of where the jugular vein lies in those she is opposing.

She said "I know you're going to shout me down, or bang your gavel or something, and disagree with me, but it has been 'party politics roadshow' tonight. We know exactly. All the people have attended because they care passionately about what's going on can see the way the votes have gone.

I will speak to this 'joke' of an amendment - I don't mean Cllr Mulholland's, the fact that he's had to add..., to try and add..., some common sense to this joke of an amendment in the first place, to try and salvage something; something to protect our communities from what is happening to them.

Self-regulation. We've all heard. We've all attended these meetings where they say that HSE go along to these sites, or will go along to these sites, and what are they actually checking? They're checking that they're wearing hard hats and high vis jackets. They're not checking the integrity of the wells. They're not monitoring all the carcinogenic fumes that are being chucked out into the air that we're all breathing in.


What also, this joke of an amendment doesn't say, is what will happen when Cuadrilla move on? After they've had the rich pickings? What will happen when people are finding their properties where the foundations have cracked and God knows what problems will be going on after all the horizontal fracking taking place? Who picks up the tab for property depreciation? What happens when we can't insure our homes?

These are all crucial things that we are absolutely here to protect the residents in our communities, and I'm just, I'm just appalled that the Conservatives tonight have put a political spin on it.

What I would also like to say Mr Mayor, after the declarations of interest at the beginning of this meeting, I was really quite shocked and appalled to see councillors that have had to declare a personal and prejudicial interest."

She was interrupted by the Mayor who asked her to speak to the amendment.

She responded "I am. This is important to an amendment, but what is even worse is to hear that our Portfolio Holder for the Environment, who is now not in the room because of his prejudicial interest, has taken money from Cuadrilla, and I really question the fact that he is in a position, and he is able to make Individual Member Cabinet Decisions - because we're in that appalling state of a Cabinet still until next May - and I really challenge.....

Again she was interrupted by the Mayor who said "Please will you... I think you're being political...."

The public gallery became restless, and she continued "I really challenge the word Environment in his Portfolio Holder's title and Cuadrilla, that's what I'm challenging.

She received sustained applause from the public gallery, but was chastised by the Mayor who said "I really don't think that did you any credit,  [Cue shouts of 'Oh yes it did!' from the public gallery], I like to see fair play and everything debated...."

He then said "Cllr Nash has asked to speak"

Never one to worry about tackling what today are called 'difficult decisions' he said he enjoyed the passion from 'the other end', and he too was worried about the safety aspects of extracting gas, but he had opposed Cllr Oades' amendment because he didn't think it would make any difference, but he found that Cllr Mulholland was talking sense, he was talking something that we could do that would be effective, and he supported Cllr Muholland's amendment.

The Mayor then called Cllr Mrs Speak for what he described as a very short question.

She wanted to know whether Cllr Mulholland's amendment would go at the bottom or the top of what Cllr Goodrich had said?, adding that she would like to see it go at the top.

As readers might have guessed, this cued up another set of arguments about where it should go. We'll cut to the chase to say it eventually went at the top.

The Cllr Mrs Oades was asked to sum up. She supported it going at the top because it was the only part that made any sense.

She also (generously, we thought) thanked Cllr Mulholland for moving the amendment, noting that *his* intentions, she knew, were honourable.

She said she knew he supported what she was asking for. She said she was going to reluctantly support the amendment because her amendment had been lost, and she would rather get something out of the meeting rather than nothing.

She said, like Cllr Mulholland, she was a pragmatist, but she believed they should send a very, very strong message to the County Council and also to Government. She said "....It's high time the Government did listen. They are a disgrace, I feel, the way they're dealing with this. They're prostituting themselves for fracking...."

She concluded by saying she wanted a very strong message sending to government.

The Mayor asked if they wanted the amendment read out again, and Cllr Hardy called for a recorded vote. The requisite number of hands went up and the officer read out Cllr Mulholland's amendment again.

Cue the debate about onshore and offshore again, and a sustained argument from one member of the public to have onshore included in the wording.

We thought that was probably covered by the term 'industry specific' in the amendment but some wanted belt and braces.

Then there was a kafuffle at the far end of the room as the owner of the placard collected it

The CE intervened to reminded members of the public that they were very welcome and he was delighted to have them here - which brought shouts of 'Don't patronise us' - from the owner of the sign that had stood at the far end of the hall, as he picked it up and marched out with it, issuing forth with a passionate tirade of comments like 'This is a farce' and "We are stopping fracking for our children" and "What a sell-out, you are dinosaurs, you are finished" and "Listen to the people."

At the doorway he was joined in the shout by a lady who shouted "16,000 signatures" and some other things we didn't catch.

The chap with the placard was on his way out anyway, but the CE formally asked him to leave, adding that if anyone else wanted to leave the room they were more than welcome to [several did], but equally he said, we do value your presence, as long as you listen to the debate"

The Mayor said he thought those protesting had been let down by the outburst. He thought they had conducted themselves very very well and he appreciate the way the public had helped.

Others said later that they thought 'placard man' had let the anti-fracking side down with his outburst, and we can understand that.

But in its own way, we thought Cllr Goodrich's' 'amendment' was equally bad at letting the 'councillors' side down.

It did it in a different way.

And it was certainly less noisy.

But it was disruptive of proper debate for a much longer time, and, we thought that masquerading a cynical and ungrammatical diatribe like that as an amendment - safe in the knowledge that support for it had been had been pre-agreed in a Conservative group meeting outside the Council meeting - and using it in order to prevent proper debate on Cllr Oades' proposition is, to our mind, equally disregarding of, and disrespectful to, proper procedure, Fylde's electors, and to democracy.

After a bit more argument about onshore and offshore, a recorded vote was taken on Cllr Mulholland's amendment being at the top of the substantive motion.

Again, we will reproduce the recorded vote from the published minutes


But we can say at this time that the voting was in favour of it being at the top.

Then Cllr Duffy reminded them that he had given notice of a further amendment.

He wanted to remove the last line that urged Cllr Mrs Oades to present her notice of motion to Lancashire County Council as the relevant Planning body on this matter. He argued that since the Conservative councillors had proposed and were likely to vote for the substantive motion because they disagreed with Cllr Oades' moratorium proposal, it would make them look foolish to suggest it should be delivered on their behalf to Lancashire County Council.

But conservatives lined up to disagree.

It seemed to us they wanted to try to embarrass and punish Cllr Mrs Oades for bringing the matter to the Fylde's attention in the first place.

Not atypical was the contribution of Cllr Susan Fazackerley who said "I would just like to express the view that I, and probably my colleagues [by that we think she means the Conservative Group rather than all the councillors] would like to keep in the last part of that amendment. We have felt all along, and really, the reason for our alternative notice of motion this evening has been to make the point that Lancashire County Council are the mineral authority, and Cllr Mrs Oades represents us on Lancashire County Council, so I would have thought it was incumbent on Cllr Mrs Oades to take our concern to the Mineral Authority"

We have a few points that readers might like to note about what she said.

Firstly, she is the Deputy Leader of Fylde Council and presumably, in the absence of the Leader she was the acting Leader at the meeting. We wondered why the Mayor did not ask her (as he would have normally asked the Leader) to answer the Public Questions (or at least to delegate another Cabinet member to do so). We suspect this was because she had declare an interest in respect of funds given to Lowther and although she decided this was only a personal interest on her part, there might have been some residual concern if she had answered the public questions.

Secondly we noted the plurality and inclusiveness of her terminology ("we", "our") giving succour to the logic that the so called 'amendment' was a pre-arranged and put up job.

Thirdly we note that even she, as deputy / acting Leader of the Council could not bring herself to refer to what Cllr Goodrich introduced as anything other than "our alternative notice of motion" indicating that 'they' never saw it as an amendment anyway.

Fourthly, Cllr Mrs Oades does not represent FBC on Lancashire County Council, she represents those people in Fylde that elected her, as do the Conservative County Councillors Fabian Craig Wilson, Tim Ashton, Paul Rigby and Peter Buckley, any of whom could equally well table such a proposition at County.

Fifthly, she is either wilfully disregarding, or is ignorant of that fact that, the concerns being expressed on Monday were all about safety and pollution, Neither of these is a matter that the County Council can take into account as the Mineral Planning Authority.

As we have shown in previous articles, and was made clear by speakers during the debate, the Conservative Government has changed its planning guidance so that the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive will make their own determination of what is and is not appropriate in terms of safety, and LCC MAY NOT do anything other than trust what they are told by these agencies. It is for FYLDE to make representation to HSE and the EA, and to Government. A fact that seems to have escaped Cllr Fazackerley's logic.

Not unexpectedly, a clearly furious Mrs Oades responded to say she did not represent Fylde at LCC, she represented the county ward of Fylde East. She said "I don't feel I need any lessons from the Conservatives on what to do at the County Council, and if they couldn't bring themselves to vote for that notice of motion I wonder why they want me to take it there?"

The vote on Cllr Duffy's final amendment was taken with a show of hands (rather than a recorded vote).

Unsurprisingly, the vote divided on party lines with Conservatives largely voting to keep it in, and others mostly voting to take it out.

The result was 17 for removing the sentence and 18 against removing it, so it remained in the substantive motion.

For reasons that would take too long to explain (and this is already one our longest ever articles) there was also a need to vote on the Substantive Motion (as well as  Cllr Duffy's amendment).

That also was taken with a show of hands and the result, given that no other option had been supported, was a foregone conclusion.

The Mayor declared was four votes against the substantive motion together with four abstentions, but we didn't get the number of votes for it. However that will no doubt be in the minutes and we will add the result when it is published. In any case, it was overwhelmingly in favour.

And that concluded the Great Fracking Debate at Fylde.

Almost all the public left the meeting at this point, but there were more agenda items concerning governance and planning. We will report these at another time.

We have to say we were saddened that Cllr Mrs Oades' proposition was not debated and voted on.

Like Cllr Hopwood, we would have voted for the moratorium. That's not because we want to be difficult, And its certainly not because we share the green agenda and believe in man-made climate change. Nor is it that we want to bring down capitalism - though a bit less of its excesses it might improve things.

It's simply that we have not had what we consider to be satisfactory answers to serious issues we have raised with the Environment Agency and the HSE, and we are absolutely appalled at the way the Government is already prepared to change the rules, to offer financial incentives, and to even change the long settled law of this country, to make it easier for fracking to take place.

With that in mind, and reflecting on how Canada - which we had previously regarded as a civilised, reliable country with what we thought was a government that could be trusted - has abused, and continues to abuse, Canadian landowner and scientist Jessica Enrst and others whose land has been fracked against their will, and whose soil and water has been poisoned, we do not believe there are sufficient safeguards yet in place in the UK, and it needs responsible organisations like Fylde to speak out as strongly as possible to stop the process until this is resolved.

We think a call for a moratorium would be Fylde speaking out as strongly as possible.

As Cllr Chedd said, it would have sent out the right message.

And in terms of response achievable, we think it would be listened to at least as much as what Fylde has chosen to say will be listened to.

For us, the highest safety - the Gold Standard we were promised - in the implementation of this new technology is a matter of the highest principle.

Our national history is filled with courageous individuals who were martyred for their principles - be they political or religious. They stood up to authority and paid the ultimate price for the consciences. We now revere them.

And on the week before the anniversary of the awful war where 16 million people courageously laid down their lives to defend our freedoms and our principles, we find people at Fylde who appear just as anxious *not* to do anything like dying to defend freedom and principle.

That must be the case - because they do not even have the courage to *offend* a Government that is quite possibly about to inflict irrevocable damage on the land, air and water of the Fylde - a borough whose very name means green and pleasant land.

For us, the comparison between those who stood up for freedom and principle, and those who have not, is both obvious and odious.

Dated:    3 Aug 2014


info@counterbalance.org.uk

To be notified when a new article is published, please email 
notify@counterbalance.org.uk