Fylde's Cllr Trevor Fiddler and Cllr Tommy Threlfall have been at the centre of a maelstrom of suspicion
and protest after they declared they had received payment for access to land in their ownership for the seismic geological survey undertaken on behalf of Cuadrilla in 2012.
After taking their own legal advice, they each regarded the payment made to
them as a 'Prejudicial Interest' and withdrew from the last Council meeting before Item 7 (which was a motion for a temporary moratorium on fracking).
Cllr Threlfall said the payment related to access to his farm for the three week seismic survey in April 2012.
Other Councillors had declared Personal Interests but were able to remain (and did) participate in the debate at full Council.
Cllr Mrs Speak declared both Personal and 'Prejudicial Interests' but, for reasons which we believe we understand, (to do with timelines and the dates of legislative changes), the legal advice she had taken convinced her she could stay in the
meeting and participate.
In broad terms, a Prejudicial Interest in today's legislation is more properly termed a 'Disclosable Pecuniary Interest' and it exists where you or your spouse receive a benefit that could be thought to affect your
judgement on a matter.
(The former, 'Prejudicial Interest' did not explicitly include payments to your spouse).
Disclosable Pecuniary Interests are also broader than the old (ie pre 1 July 2012) definition of a Prejudicial Interest, in that it is an interest even if there is no likelihood that it might prejudice the memberís
perception of the public interest - so a decision which has only a minimal impact on a memberís property can trigger a criminal offence.
Readers who would like more detail can follow this link to the Government's publication
'Openness and Transparency on Personal Interests: A Guide for Councillors'
The decision of Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall (like many other farmers and landowners) to accept a payment for the use of their land for the geological survey has cause a
furore amongst anti-frackers.
Many see these payments as a corrupting
process when made to public officials and community groups, and several have called on the Councillors involved to resign.
Two very strong and well argued critiques have appeared on the website of Alan Tootill - both of which call for Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall to leave the Council.
Readers can see those critiques for themselves by following these links
Fiddler must resign the Council or be pushed.
Threlfall's head should also roll.
We understand a very acrimonious Conservative Group meeting took place a week or so after the Full Council meeting, where other Group members were very critical of Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall for enabling widespread criticism to be levelled at them
because of their acts and omissions. We understand officers are also taking flack for the advice they have given as well.
We're not as unhappy as some folk about Councillors accepting of payments.
Payments for the use of land are a normal business transaction and, so long as the payments are properly declared, and councillors withdraw from meetings where the sums they have received are significant (which FBC takes to be over £25), we
don't see it as being that much of a problem.
If these matters are transparent, and we know about the relationships, and we know money has changed hands, (because proper declarations have been made in public), we can form our own view as to the judgement, calibre and integrity of the
individuals concerned - and we can exercise our vote for, or against them, at an election.
But where we do agree with the concern expressed by their current critics however, is that their interests in this matter only appear to have been declared two or more years after the payments were received.
And that doesn't seem right to us.
It leads us to wonder how it might be?
Did they believe there had not been an opportunity to do so between receipt of the payment in April 2012 and the Council Meeting of 28th July 2014?
Or did these two councillors believe they need not have declared an interest but the Public Question Time challenge from the lady from the Preston New Road Group about which Councillors had taken money from Cuadrilla - coupled with a linked
question directed at officers, and a proposition from Cllr Mrs Oades about a fracking moratorium - had led to pressure from officers, and that had reminded Cllrs about the need to declare interests
And in turn, that had prompted Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall to
make the declarations?
Or was there some other reason altogether?
We thought readers might be puzzled too.....
There are two sorts of opportunity for Councillors to declare interests.
The most obvious is at the start of every FBC meeting where there is a standing item to remind Councillors that they should declare an interest if they have one that conflicts with any item on the agenda of that meeting.
This is intended to address the situation where the benefit has very recently been received, and there has not yet been the opportunity to add it to the Statutory Declaration if Interests form.
However, in practice, it also works a bit like an
aide-memoir in case a benefit had been recently received and been forgotten about.
The other way is in the main (Statutory) Registration of Disclosable Pecuniary Interests, in which councillors must declare interests within 28 days of taking office, or within 28 days of becoming aware of changes in their circumstances that require
This acts as a catch-all, in which interests can be declared at any time, and is a public document which anyone can see. It's on the right hand side of the FBC Website page which gives the contact details of each councillor.
Well usually it is, but recently, because there was thought to be a potential 'threat' to those who might be perceived to support fracking during the week of direct action, FBC used its usual sledgehammer to crack a walnut, and decided to remove the contact details
of every councillor from its website for a fortnight or so - (as though that would stop anyone going into a library and looking the address up).
In fact, for most of the first week, Fylde didn't even manage to remove the contact details at all.
They removed the page that scheduled all the councillors names as links to their individual pages, but you could still put any councillors surname in the FBC searchbox and up came the individual contact details (address and so on) for the councillor
But what Fylde hadn't bargained for though, were the various web archiving services that take snapshots of (it would seem) virtually all websites that exist, and allow anyone to look at Fylde's website as it has previously existed once every few
months over a period of several years.
A quick visit there to Fylde's 'Councillors' page (a page that was indexed by one of the archiving services in July) returned the very page and working hyperlinks that Fylde had 'removed' from its website.
So all Fylde has done with this is make themselves look foolish by removing the contact details in the first place.
Anyway, they've now put the list of councillors back on the FBC website, so it's back to the main topic....
We checked the Statutory Register on 11th August, and neither Cllr Fiddler nor Cllr Threlfall had declared the money from Cuadrilla on the 'Disclosable Pecuniary Interests Register' published on Fylde's website and, as far as we can see, they probably
should have done that within 28 days of receiving it.
We also checked again today, on 25th August (which is 28 days after they declared their 'Prejudicial' Interest at the Council meeting on 28th July) and there had been no declaration of a change in their circumstances for the 'Cuadrilla payment'
(even after their declaration at Council on 28th July), so the published version of the register on Fylde's website has not been updated with these declarations if, indeed, they have been made by the Councillors concerned.
It is just possible an updated paper version exists that has not yet been scanned onto Fylde's website, but given the storm this has caused (and we understand it's still raging today), you'd think Fylde would have
published it very quickly, (to quell the storm). So we're inclined to the view that no changes have been made to the register as at today.
Cllr Fiddler originally signed his main Declaration on 6th August 2012 and it was countersigned by a Fylde officer on 15th August 2012. His published web copy bears no FBC datestamp. There have been no updates to his Declaration which is published on
Fylde's website since then.
Cllr Threlfall signed his main declaration on 2 August 2012 and it was countersigned by a Fylde officer on the same day. It is datestamped 'Fylde Borough Council 30 Aug 12.' However, Cllr Threlfall's form has been amended since that date to
record additional property in his ownership in Freckleton. That amendment was made on 22 January 2014 and countersigned by a Fylde officer on the same day. There have been no further updates to his Declaration as published on Fylde's website since
So if they didn't make the 'Cuadrilla declarations' there, we wondered if either of them had made declarations at relevant meetings before the Council meeting on 28th July 2014?
It seems maybe not.
We have heard it said that FBC believes the declarations were not made at meetings before the Council Meeting of 28th July 2014 by Cllr Fiddler and Threlfall, because that was the first opportunity that either of them had had to declare such
an interest since receiving the money.
If what we heard *is* Fylde's view, we would have to dispute that.
If nothing else, we would dispute it based on their need to declare the change in their circumstances within 28 days.
The precise wording of that requirement is:
"If my circumstances change I must, within 28 days of becoming aware of any changes to the interests specified above, provide written notification to the Monitoring Officer of that change.
I understand that I should do this by making the necessary amendments to this form as soon as possible. I understand that in order to do this, I will be required to amend, initial and mark e.g. 1 * the changes against the appropriate section sign and
then date the form on the last page"
So they could, and probably should, have made an addition to their Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interests Register to the effect that Cuadrilla had made a payment of more than £25 to them - and the requirements
to declare that interest would have been satisfied.
But what if they simply forgot about doing that, and there had been no meeting at which an item involving a decision about Cuadrilla had arisen to remind them to declare it as a Disclosable Interest - until the Council meeting that considered the
temporary moratorium proposal on 28th July 2014?
Might that be possible?
We were almost ready to assume this was possible and perhaps even likely.
Or at least we were until we heard Cllr Fiddler's statements on 'BBC Northwest Tonight.'
Had he not made those statements, we might not have bothered any further, but when we saw him imply that at the time he received the payments no-one had heard of Cuadrilla and he thought it was just a survey and he thought no more about it, we had to
disagree with him.
And we decided to take a closer look.
Cllr Threlfall has already said the survey was in April 2012.
Cllr Fiddler told the BBC he had been offered £150 for the inconvenience two and a half years ago, (which appears to confirm Cllr Threlfall's date of April 2012 as the date that both received payments)
Cllr Fiddler told the reporter "I just said yes, fine, no problem." He added "At that time, Cuadrilla had never been heard of, fracking hadn't been referred to. It was simply a scientific study, and therefore why should one make any
relationship to it?"
You can click on this link to open a new page to hear the relevant quotation from the programme as anaudio file.
(Please close the new page after listening to return to this text).
We know what he said is not true.
Although the issue of a licence to Cuadrilla was probably an earlier first step in the process, fracking had started to become public knowledge in Fylde two years before, (ie around July 2010), when planning applications were first lodged with
Lancashire County Council.
But to be fair, at this time, few would have paid much heed to them.
However, six months later, in January 2011, when counterbalance's first fracking report (of an open public meeting organised by Philip Mitchell and Ian Roberts at St Annes YMCA) was
published, Cuadrilla had eight planning applications that has been either submitted to, or granted by, Lancashire County Council, for test drilling.
These sites were
- Anna's Road, Westby: 05/10/0634
- South of Grange Lane Singleton: 05/10/0091; 05/10/0091/1; 05/10/0091/2;
- North of Hale hall Farm, Wharles 05/09/0813; 05/09/0813/1
- Preese Hall, Weeton 05/09/0572; 05/09/0572/2
As Fylde's most senior planning councillor, and Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development, we find it hard to believe that Cllr Fiddler had not been made aware of these applications - all of which were in his Borough.
By 24th February 2011, former Cllr Janine Owen became the first Fylde councillor to request a debate about 'Exploratory On-Shore Shale Gas Drilling'.
The report in response to her request went to Fylde's Community Focus Scrutiny Meeting of 24th Feb and noted "....it is considered prudent to present to committee at the earliest opportunity particularly in light of an offer from the company
involved in the exploration work to allow the council (members and officers) the opportunity to visit one of its sites and clarify any issues with them directly."
The report also said
"The item falls within the following Cabinet portfolios:
- Environment and Partnerships- Councillor Thomas Threlfall
- Planning and Development Ė Councillor Trevor Fiddler"
The body of the report said:
"2.1 Cuadrilla Resources is the company carrying out exploratory shale gas drilling in the Fylde area. Cuadrilla is a UK based company and is presently
active in two sites in the Fylde area but will be active in up to six others over the coming year.
2.2 Cuadrilla is aware that their operations have been subject of some interest and would like the opportunity to meet with key stakeholders to show them round their operations and discuss in detail any concerns and answer any questions.
2.3 It is suggested that representatives of scrutiny together with relevant portfolio holders, ward councillors and any other interested members accept the invitation to view the operations to broaden knowledge of this activity."
The Committee resolved:
- To make appropriate arrangements for representatives of the committee, relevant portfolio holders/ward councillors, chairmen of the relevant parish councils, relevant officers and any other interested members to view the operations and meet
representatives of the company concerned.
- To report on the findings to the next meeting of the committee.
That being the case, it is entirely inconceivable that both Cllr Threlfall and Cllr Fiddler did not know of Cuadrilla, and were not aware of the meeting to consider on-shore drilling and the invitation from Cuadrilla to visit one of the sites.
Readers can follow this link to see the original Agenda report and the minutes of that meeting.
So we think that if not before, then by now, Cllr Fiddler would have been aware of Cuadrilla and fracking.
But in any case, Fylde's Cabinet meeting of 23 March 2011 received and considered the minutes of the Community Focus Scrutiny Meeting of 24th Feb.
The minutes show that Cabinet meeting was attended by Councillors Dr. Trevor Fiddler and Thomas Threlfall.
Although this meeting was 13 months before any payment was received from Cuadrilla, the Declarations of Interest section in those minutes notes that "Councillors Thomas Threlfall and Trevor Fiddler declared a personal interest in item 13 relating
to the Disposal of Tomís Croft Car Park, Freckleton to Freckleton Parish Council as they are Freckleton Parish Councillors."
This suggests they were familiar with the need to declare interests if an item in which they had an interest appeared on an agenda.
It also shows that, 13 months before they received payment from Cuadrilla, both Councillors were aware of fracking, because the Cabinet of which they were Portfolio Holders "RESOLVED to note and approve the recommendations of the Community Focus
Scrutiny Committee at its meeting held on 24 February 2011." and this CFSC meeting had been all about Cuadrilla and fracking
On 14th April 2011 (and readers should remember this is still a year before Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall received payments), Fylde's Community Focus Scrutiny Committee had a further agenda item . It's summary said "Further to the request
of the committee at its last meeting, appropriate arrangements were made for members of the committee, relevant portfolio holders / ward councillors, chairmen of the relevant parish councils and key officers to meet representatives of Cuadrilla and
view the active shale gas drilling operations at the Singleton site. The site visit took place on Monday, 7 March 2011"
However, on the night of 14th April, the Scrutiny Committee meeting to review the visit and discuss other matters was inquorate, and had to be adjourned.
At its next meeting on 16 June, a quorate committee convened and noted that some (unspecified) members had attended Cuadrilla's site meeting. The minutes show Councillor Thomas Threlfall (Portfolio Holder for Environment and Partnerships at that
time) also attended the 16 June Scrutiny Committee meeting as an observer.
At that meeting, the report of 14th April was re-presented, together with an addendum report, and a letter from Cuadrilla headed "Statement on May 27th Earthquake in Poulton area"
The company was in attendance at the meeting to be questioned and to provide information.
So by June, we'd had the earthquake all over our TV screens and newspapers, and we find it difficult to believe that Cllr Fiddler can claim not to have heard about Cuadrilla and fracking when it had received almost Wall to Wall TV and Radio and
Once again, the Cabinet meeting of Tuesday, 28 June 2011 received the minutes of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 16th June.
Once again, the minutes of that Meeting show that the cabinet members attending included Councillors Dr. Trevor Fiddler and Thomas Threlfall.
The Scrutiny Committee had resolved "To ask the Scrutiny Management Board to look at the feasibility of undertaking an in-depth scrutiny review of the shale gas drilling operations within the borough"
The Cabinet meeting "RESOLVED to note and approve the recommendations made by the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 16 June 2011."
So unless they slept through these Cabinet Meetings, neither could reasonably claim not to have heard of Cuadrilla or fracking.
On 28th July 2011, the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee met again to consider the issue of Shale Gas. The summary of the report said:
"At previous meetings of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee, a light touch review has been given to Cuadrillaís exploratory on shore shale gas drilling operations within the borough. At the meeting of the Scrutiny Management Board held on 22
June, it was considered that this matter be the subject on an in-depth scrutiny review. A scoping document is attached which sets out the proposed purpose and scope of the review."
The minutes show the scoping document was approved and that a Task and Finish Group - to conduct a review on shale gas drilling activities within the borough should be established - and the group comprise: Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Committee and
Councillors Tim Armit, Susan Ashton, Susanne Cunningham, Ken Hopwood, Richard Redcliffe and John Singleton.
On 28 July, Cllrs Threlfall and Fiddler, received - as did all members of the Cabinet - the minutes of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee of 28th July 2011.
The report accompanying these minutes to Cabinet also says "Cabinet may like to note that Councillor Nigel Goodrich will replace Councillor John Singleton on the group following his interest in the matter."
This change was because Cuadrilla had offered a donation toward the replacement of Weeton Village Hall, and, as a member of the Village Hall Committee which had voted to receive it, Cllr John Singleton decided that although technically this was only classed
as a Personal Interest for him (which meant he could declare it and continue to take part in debates and votes involving Cuadrilla) he could not, in all conscience, remain a member of the Shale Gas Task and Finish Group having been part of an
organisation that had received money from Cuadrilla.
So he had resigned from the T&F Group.
This was one of the most honourable things we had seen a Fylde councillor do for many a year, and in a previous article we commended Cllr Singleton for setting the 'Gold Standard' in respect of declaring interests at Fylde. We are happy to do
so again in this article.
The Cabinet, (including Cllrs Fiddler and Threlfall) at the meeting where Cllr Singleton was reported as having declared an interest "RESOLVED to note and approve the recommendations made by the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 28
So they had seen both the report about Cuadrilla and Fracking and - more importantly - they has seen their colleague Cllr John Singleton declare an interest and, going beyond that which he was legally required to do, stand down from the Shale Gas
Task and Finish Group.
On 1st December 2011 a meeting of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee received the 'Interim Report of the Shale Gas Task And Finish Group'
counterbalance reported this meeting on 5th December 2011.
We said at the time, "With committed environmentalist and Environment Portfolio Holder Cllr Tommy Threlfall sitting in the public gallery, he [the Chairman] went on to say that when a planning consultation came in from LCC in the future, it
shouldn't just be FBC Planning that responded. He said they needed to make the relevant Portfolio Holder aware of the consultation, and a response should be made on behalf of the whole Council."
Once again, Cabinet of 18 January 2012 - again attended by Cllr Fiddler and Threlfall - received the minutes and recommendations of the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet "RESOLVED to approve the recommendations made by the Community
Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 1 December 2011"
On 29 February 2012, counterbalance published 'Snippets: February 2012 - Good Vibrations?'
We said: "Cuadrilla, the gas exploration company have said they're going to do a 'Geophysical Survey' around the Fylde.
They have been working with land-owners and the County Council to establish access to land and agree the route the survey will take."
"They plan to lay a net or grid of cables up and down the countryside with microphones attached, and leave them in position for about thee weeks whilst a convoy of four or so "specialist vibrator (vibroseis) vehicles slowly operate along a number of
predetermined roads and tracks falling within the area"
We also said "A posh booklet has been sent to almost everyone in the Fylde plain, so we don't need to go into too much detail."
This survey was also widely reported in other media, and Cuadrilla took out full page adverts about it in the local papers.
All of this happened before April 2012 when Cllrs Fiddler and Threlfall received payment for the use of their land.
From the foregoing, readers will no doubt come to the same view that we came to - whilst Cllr Threlfall has, honourably, never publicly claimed he didn't know anything about it, it is entirely impossible for Cllr Fiddler to sustain the view he
gave to the BBC when he said that in April 2012, "Cuadrilla had never been heard of, fracking hadn't been referred to. It was simply a scientific study, and therefore why should one make any relationship to it?"
We simply cannot accept his view that he did not know of Cuadrilla, or fracking, and that the approach made to him was "....simply a scientific study..."
He knew full well of both Cuadrilla and Fracking.
He had attended and taken part in at least three Cabinet meetings where it was an agenda Item. He had received the papers for umpteen Shale Gas Task and Finish Group meetings that set out the matter in some detail.
He may even have attended the Cuadrilla site visit on 7th March 2011.
We believe the false statement he made on television - whether made by accident or design - has brought Fylde Council into disrepute, and for that reason, his judgement in making it is unsound, and his Portfolio should be removed by Council Leader
So where does that leave us?
Well, if we have established, (as we believe we have), that Cllr Fiddler and Cllr Threlfall knew that Cuadrilla was the company that was doing fracking, and that they were employing a company to undertake the geophysical survey. It cannot be
that these councillors could not know the payment they received originated from Cuadrilla.
And in any case, they admitted as much when they declared it as a 'Prejudicial Interest' at Council on 28th July 2014.
So the question now becomes, was Council on 28th July 2014 the first time they could, or should, have declared a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in respect of Cuadrilla's payment?
Again, the answer to this must be 'No' because their Statutory Declaration of Pecuniary Interest states that within 28 days of their circumstances changing, they must report that change to the Council's Monitoring Officer and have it added to their Declaration.
Neither did this.
Furthermore, we looked at some instances where we think they could or should have declared that Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest previously - where an agenda item ought to have acted as the aide memoir and jogged their memory to make the Declaration.
We found seven instances where either or both Councillors were involved in decisions made by Fylde Council about Cuadrilla or Fracking between April 2012 and 27 July 2014.
First Instance: Cllr Threlfall. 23rd May 2012,
about a month after receipt of the payment
The first 'committee opportunity' to declare a Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest came about a month after receipt of payments from Cuadrilla. The Cabinet meeting of 23 May 2012 had an item to consider the recommendations of a Special Community Focus
Scrutiny Committee which had met on 17 May 2012 to consider the final report and recommendations of the Shale Gas Task and Finish Group.
Cllr Threlfall, (but not Cllr Fiddler) attended that meeting.
Cllr Fazackerly declared an interest in an item about Lowther Gardens Trust and left the room for that item.
Cllr Threlfall did not declare any interest.
In reaching its decision, Cabinet considered the details of nine very significant final recommendations of the Task and Finish Group and RESOLVED:
1. To approve the recommendations made by the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee held on 17 May 2012.
2. To convey Cabinetís thanks and appreciation to the Task and Finish Group and the officers concerned for their diligence in producing the final report and finings.
Given the payment he had received from Cuadrilla about one month earlier, we believe Cllr Threlfall ought to have declared a Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in this matter and not taken part in this discussion and decision.
24 September 2012,
about five months after receipt of the payment
The next committee opportunity to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest came in the Full Council Meeting of 24 September 2012
The minutes of this meeting record Cllr Threlfall as attending, but not Cllr Fiddler.
Councillor Viv Willder declared a pecuniary interest in Item 7 as a member of the Board of New Fylde Housing, and took no part in the debate and vote on that item.
There were no other Declarations of Interest
Minute 26 of that meeting records a Notice of Motion proposed by Cllr Linda Nulty and seconded by Cllr Alan Clayton, which essentially asked Council to agree "to form a working group to:
(1) monitor activities related to Shale Gas
Exploration and Production,
(2) collate information and opinion relating to this subject, and
(3) provide this information to both Council and Fylde residents in an impartial manner on an ongoing basis until further notice."
In this way, it was absolutely no different (in terms of declarations of interest) to Cllr Mrs Oades 'moratorium' Notice of Motion a couple of years later.
Tracy Morrison, the Councilís Director of Resources and Monitoring Officer, intervened to advise councillors that the matter proposed within the Motion was an Executive (as opposed to Full Council) function. She said ".... It would need to
be led by the Portfolio Holder as he has the backing of the Cabinet..."
She then suggested some wording which was "That the Portfolio Holder take soundings from members via a discussion forum to guide thinking on any comments the Council may officially wish to make with regard to the future operation of shale gas
drilling. Any official comments would then be considered by the Portfolio Holder as part of the Executive decision-making process, which is quite distinct from the duties that are conferred on the full council"
What she was saying here was that the full Council did not have the authority to make any decisions or make statements on shale gas drilling, that was a matter for the Cabinet - and in particular for the Portfolio Holder.
But the complicating factor in this matter was that the Council *did* have the authority to set up working groups.
So Council could agree to establish the group, but it would have to be led by the Portfolio Holder, and he would have to be the spokesman for the Council on the matter of Shale Gas.
(This, of course is a quirk of the awful and ridiculous Cabinet System which sets the power of the Leader and his chosen few above the authority of all councillors acting and voting as one. Thankfully this should change next May as far as Fylde is
concerned when it reinstates the Committee system of administration).
Some small changes of wording of the motion were agreed before Councillor David Eaves proposed an amendment which was seconded by Councillor Karen Buckley.
Cllr Eaves said that he would like to support the Notice of Motion except that it should state that it would be the Portfolio Holder for the Environment calling and chairing the meetings, instead of the Mayor.
Cllr Mrs Henshaw asked about who may attend and whether there would be a limit on those attending.
The Mayor (to us a bit surprisingly) asked Cllr Threlfall to respond to this question.
Reading from a prepared statement, Cllr Threlfall said "I'm very happy to support this Notice of Motion.... I will listen to any elected member on shale gas. I think it is in the interests of the residents of this Borough that we do take hold of
shale gas to see that the regulations are in place before production takes place.
Since the extensive Task and Finish group which Cllr Mulholland led a good group and took it to task, the shale gas recommendations have been given to the MP and to County Council, and are on the website.
Since that, I have sought a meeting with the County Council Portfolio Holder for the Environment. That meeting has been arranged for October 4th. Also, I'm very eager to meet within three weeks. I'd be very happy to take this to the table and any
elected member to come to the table to bring their concerns about shale gas in our Borough."
Following the debate, a vote was taken, and the amended motion was carried.
So, not only did Cllr Threlfall fail to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest for this notice of Motion on Shale Gas, (as he later did when the 'moratorium' Notice of Motion was proposed by Cllr Mrs Oades on 28 July 2014), Cllr Eaves and Cllr Buckley
succeeded in proposing him to chair the Working Group on Shale Gas, and he then set out what arrangements there would be for meetings (even before the vote to create the group had been taken), and voted (with other councillors) for
himself to become the Chairman.
Given that we now know of the payment that Cuadrilla had made to him about five months earlier, we believe he should have declared that as a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest at the start of that Council Meeting, and he should have withdrawn from the meeting
for that item.
We also believe he should not have been proposed as Chairman of the Working Group on Shale gas if he had a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest which we now know he had, (because he retrospectively declared it to be so on 28th July 2014).
This has now created a complete mess for Fylde because - according to its Chief Executive and its Monitoring Officer - only the Cabinet Portfolio Holder may chair the meetings on Shale Gas because it is an Executive (for which read Cabinet) function,
not a Council function.
But the relevant Cabinet Portfolio Holder has now declared an interest which should disbar him from attending or taking part in the meetings which he is supposed to chair.
As far as we can see he may not, having declared that Disclosable Pecuniary Interest, chair any more meetings of the Shale Gas Working Group, and we suspect his position as a Portfolio Holder is untenable. We cannot see how Cllr Eaves can allow him to remain
Portfolio Holder for the Environment.
7th November 2012,
about seven months after receipt of the payment
Fylde's Development Management Committee of 7th November 2012 considered an application from Cuadrilla to install a shipping container for materials and equipment storage at their existing well site on Roseacre Road.
The FBC report says Cuadrilla has LCC acting as their agent in this matter, but Cuadrilla's application form says it is an application from Cuadrilla and their agent is Phil Mason of Staffordshire. Whichever is right, it was a planning application to
be determined by LCC and Fylde's views were being sought
Cllr Fiddler was present at the meeting.
No declarations of interest were made.
It may be argued that - as this might be considered an LCC (rather than Cuadrilla) application - Cllr Fiddler may not strictly *have to* declare the payment as a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest
Under 'Decision' the minutes say "Raise no objection" to Cuadrilla's application.
But that itself is a 'decision' made by the Committee. and that requires a declarations to be made where relevant.
That said, whether he *had* to do so or not, this was an opportunity for Cllr Fiddler to declare his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest and not take part in the debate.
16th January 2013,
about nine months after receipt of the payment
Fylde's Development Management Committee of 16 January 2013 had, as Item 5, a consultation from LCC on Cuadrilla's application to extend their planning permission at Annas Road from 18 months to 24 months.
Again, the minutes show Cllr Fiddler being present.
No-one declared either a personal or a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in any item on the agenda.
Under 'Decision' the minutes say "Raise no objection"
This meeting represents another instance where Cllr Fiddler could have declared his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest from the payment in April 2012, but did not do so.
13th February 2013,
about ten months after receipt of the payment
Fylde's Development Management Committee of 13 February 2013 (item 6) was an application by Cuadrilla with LCC as their agent for permission to undertake horizontal drilling and core sampling but excluding fracturing.
Again, this was a County application with Fylde being asked for comments.
The minutes show Cllr Fiddler present at this meeting
Councillor Susan Ashton declared a personal and 'prejudicial interest' in planning application number 12/0609 relating to the Conifers, Bambers Lane, Westby with Plumptons and withdrew from the meeting.
There were no other Declarations of Interest.
Officers recommended comments be made, but the Committee declined to do so, and raised no objection.
This represents another instance where Cllr Fiddler could have declared his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest from the payment in April 2012, but did not do so.
22nd January 2014,
about twenty-one months after receipt of the payment
The Development Management Committee of 22 January 2014 met.
Again the minutes show Cllr Fiddler being present.
No-one declared either a personal or a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in any item on the agenda.
Item No 1 was a consultation from LCC about extending the time for Cuadrilla to restore the Annas Road site.
Fylde's officers said "The main issues to consider are the impact of the development on the character of the countryside and the impacts on the amenity of neighbouring properties, in particular due to the increase in the time that the works will
remain on site."
Under the heading 'Decision' it says "That the County Council be advised that no objection is raised to the application as revised."
We pretty much figure that was a decision involving Cuadrilla, and that Cllr Fiddler could, and quite possibly should, have declared the same Disclosable Pecuniary Interest he was to declare six months later on a proposal for a temporary moratorium.
This meeting represents another instance where Cllr Fiddler could have declared his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest from the payment in April 2012, but did not do so.
26th February 2014,
about twenty-two months after receipt of the payment
The Development Management Committee meeting of 26 February 2014 presents us with something of a problem.
There were two items regarding Cuadrilla.
Item 8 was to provide Fylde's comments to Lancashire County Council's Scoping Opinion on Cuadrilla's Scoping Proposals for the Environmental Impact Assessment at Roseacre Wood.
Item 9 was the same thing for Cuadrilla's Preston New Road proposed drilling site.
The decision recommended by officers before the meeting was "No Comment"
In the 'Declaration of Interests' item at the start of the meeting Cllr Heather Speak said " This application item, number eight, I declare an interest, personal and prejudicial...." but the Chairman, Cllr Aitken, interrupted her and
"No, this is just to talk about a Scoping Report Councillor Speak, so don't worry about that one."
He was entirely wrong to do so. As we have been told many times, it is the Individual member's responsibility to decide whether they have an interest or not.
That said, Cllr Mrs Speak accepted the Chairman's ruling, and stayed in the meeting. So no record of her declaration of interest appears in the minutes of the meeting, although it remains audible on the webcast video.
Although the officer's recommendation was to make 'No Comment' members had other ideas, and, under the heading "Decision" (which to us suggests that a decision has been made), the notes of the meeting show that the DM Committee noted the content,
and added three additional matters they wanted to be addressed in Cuadrilla's Environmental Impact Assessment, together with a request that LCC ensured that it has consulted with Town and Parish Councils that were potentially affected by the development.
So why do we say we have a problem with this?
Well, at first sight, this looks to be another instance where Cllr Fiddler could have declared the same Disclosable Pecuniary Interest he declared five months later at Full Council on 28th July 2014.
But there are several reasons to be cautious on this.
We suspect the fact that it was a 'No Comment' recommendation might have made Cllr Fiddler (who is a member of DMC) think he didn't need to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest. He could have thought - because we are not planning to make a
comment, then the decision not to make a comment wasn't really a decision at all. And if it wasn't a decision he didn't have to declare an interest.
We wonder if this was also why the Chairman told Cllr Mrs Speak (who HAD tried to declare an interest) that it was not necessary for her to do so.
We doubt that Cllr John Singleton would have seen it that way though.
It may also be that because the response was going to LCC, some people will argue the decision was not about an application from Cuadrilla (even though it was LCC seeking the comments on Cuadrilla's proposals).
The logic of this is tricky to untangle, as is the question of whether a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest would apply to Fylde's decision once you've untangled it.
We think some would say it did, and others would say not.
It's also complicated because the minutes of the meeting that we downloaded say:
"Councillor Fiddler was not in attendance during consideration of planning applications 13/0743, 13/0798, 14/0089, 14/0089 and as a consequence, took no part in the voting relating thereto"
Now, as our eagle-eyed readers will spot, 14/0089 is down twice.
14/0089 is the planning reference for the Roseacre Wood scoping opinion
14/0090 is the planning reference for the land North of Preston New Road scoping opinion
So at first sight you might think this is just a typographic error and the second one ought to be read as 14/0090
That would mean Cllr Fiddler was not in attendance during either of them, and is therefore 'off the hook' for not declaring an interest in any case.
Except that's not the case.
We have a copy of the webcast of the meeting, and it quite clearly shows Cllr Fiddler in attendance for both of these items and, indeed, contributing to the debate on both them.
In fact, not only did he contribute to the debate, he was the Councillor who *seconded* Cllr Mrs Oades proposition to add the three additional matters and the reference to the parish councils.
So the minute of that meeting is incorrect.
We can see there could be a number of reasons for him being reported as not being there.
One possibility is that as well as typing the wrong number, the clerk taking the minutes completely mistook the point at which Cllr Fiddler left the meeting (He actually left immediately after the vote on these two items).
But we know the clerk who did this meeting, and we regard her as probably the most experienced Committee Clerk Fylde has in its employment. She is a competent and very committed officer. We have a lot of time for her ability, and we simply cannot
imagine her work being so slapdash.
Another possibility is that the minutes were written by someone else.
Another is that they have since been altered - to make it appear that Cllr Fiddler was not in attendance for debate on that item even though he was.
But we couldn't imagine an officer of Fylde Council would put themselves at such a risk.
Were that to be shown to be the case, it would be a very serious, and possibly criminal, matter, so we can't see anyone at Fylde being so stupid.
So at present, the reason must remain a mystery.
And that's why we say we have a problem with this instance.
That said, it *was* another opportunity for Cllr Fiddler to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest had he chosen to do so
So, what does all this mean?
Firstly it means the circumstances for each person are different, so we ought to consider the situation of each person differently
Fylde's own arrangements suggest to us that Cllr Fiddler, whose false statement made as Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development on television - whether made by accident or design - has brought Fylde Council into disrepute, and for that reason,
his judgement may be considered unsound, and we believe his Portfolio should be removed by Council Leader David Eaves.
We also believe he failed to declare the payment he received as a Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest as required by the Code of Conduct within 28 days.
We also believe he failed to declare a Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest at several of the Development Management Committee meetings considering shale gas issues between receipt in April 2012 and Council of 28th July 2014, when he could have done so, and
he may have contravened Fylde's member Code of Conduct by not making the declarations.
Our uncertainty on this third aspect is that whilst we believe most people on the Clapham Omnibus would not distinguish between them, an application from Cuadrilla, and a consultation from LCC on an application from Cuadrilla, which required Fylde's
Development Management Committee to come to a decision may just escape being a matter that *required* a declaration of interest to be made. (The - somewhat twisted in our view - logic may be that it was a decision about LCC not about
Cuadrilla). This is probably a matter that needs further consideration by better brains than ours.
But for Cllr Fiddler, there remains the false statement and the issue of his judgement to be addressed, and the fact that he did not declare the interest within the statutory 28 days, and the fact that he does not appear to have declared the interest
in the Statutory Register 28 days after declaring the 'prejudicial' Interest at Council on 28th July 2014.
Has not made public statements that he did not know about Cuadrilla or fracking at the time he accepted payment.
But he did fail to declare that payment as a Prejudicial / Disclosable Pecuniary Interest as required by the Code of Conduct within 28 days.
He also failed to declare it at two meetings that were one and five months after its receipt.
Most specifically we believe, he failed to declare it as a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest at the Council meeting of 24 September 2012 which he attended, participated in, and voted at, when it proposed him to be the Chairman of the Shale Gas Working Group. He
also accepted that role, knowing he had received - and not declared - a payment from Cuadrilla.
He did however declare it as a 'Prejudicial Interest' at Council on 28 July 2014.
But, like Cllr Fiddler, even 28 days after declaring the 'prejudicial Interest' on 28th July 2014, he has still not added this interest to his published statutory Declaration form
As we said earlier, since 28th July 2014, this Cabinet Portfolio Holder for the Environment has a declared a 'backdated' 'Prejudicial Interest' which should now disbar him from attending or taking part in the meetings which he is supposed to
As far as we can see, he may not, having declared that Disclosable Pecuniary Interest chair any more meetings of the Shale Gas Working Group, or speak on behalf of Fylde Council on Shale Gas matters, and we suspect his position as a Portfolio Holder is
We cannot see how Cllr Eaves can allow him to remain Portfolio Holder for the Environment.
So is that it?
Will they be able to remain as Councillors if they have transgressed in this matter?
Well, it may not be the end of it.
Both these matters may become even more serious, because Fylde's Code of Conduct for Members says "it is a criminal offence to:
- Fail to notify the Monitoring Officer of any disclosable pecuniary interest within 28 days of election
- Fail to disclose a disclosable pecuniary interest at a meeting if it is not on the Register
- Fail to notify the Monitoring Officer within 28 days of a disclosable pecuniary interest that is not on the register that you have disclosed to a meeting.
- Participate in any discussion or vote on a matter in which you have a disclosable pecuniary interest.
- As an executive member discharging a function acting alone, and having a disclosable pecuniary interest in such a matter, failing to notify the Monitoring Officer within 28 days of the interest.
- Knowingly or recklessly providing information that is false or misleading in notifying the Monitoring Officer of a disclosable pecuniary interest or in disclosing such interest to a meeting.
- The criminal penalties available to a court are to impose a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale and disqualification from being a councillor for up to 5 years."
This wording is incorporated in Fylde's Constitution because the law on disclosing interests was changed by the 2011 Localism Act, and from 1st July 2012, each Statutory Declaration at Fylde (which every Councillor has to sign) now contains the following wording....
"The Localism Act 2011 created specific criminal offences in relation to the disclosure of pecuniary interests (Part 1 of this form). I understand it is a criminal offence:
- to fail to register a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest (DPI) I am aware of within 28 days of my election or re-election;
- to take part in the debate or vote at any meeting where I have a registered or unregistered Disclosable Pecuniary Interest;
- to fail to declare at a meeting and/or to take part in the debate or vote, if I am aware I have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest which is not yet registered or notified to the Monitoring Officer;
- if I have declared an unregistered Disclosable Pecuniary Interest at a meeting, to fail to register that within 28 days of that declaration;
- to provide false or misleading information in relation to any registration or to be reckless as to its accuracy;
- to take any steps or further action on a matter in which I have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest other than referring it elsewhere;
in each case without reasonable excuse and I recognise any such failure is a direct contravention of the Localism Act 2011 and a criminal offence and may be investigated by the police and referred to the Director of Public
Prosecutions. I understand that upon conviction a Member or co-optee may be fined up to a maximum of £5,000."
We noted that (ii) says it is a criminal offence to 'take part in the debate or vote at any meeting where the councillor has a registered *or unregistered* Disclosable Pecuniary Interest.'
This 'or unregistered' wording is not in Fylde's Code of Conduct for Councillors in its Constitution, but it is part of the declaration all councillors have signed. The matter is at least, confusing, and greater clarity is needed in
other aspects as well.
It follows that a criminal investigation may now be required to establish the facts in this matter for both councillors, and to come to a view as to whether a crime has been committed, and whether Cllr Fiddler ought to have declared an interest at the Development Management Committee
meetings, and the circumstances in which the minutes of the Development Management Committee of 26th February 2014 fail to reflect Cllr Fiddler's accurate attendance.
So it may not yet be 'the end' of it at all.
officers will feel it appropriate to invite the Police to look at the evidence - to see whether a criminal offence has been committed and whether the DPP should receive details if the Police think it has.
Dated: 25 Aug 2014