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Fracking Squatters

Fracking SquattersWe break the news that squatters have moved onto the proposed fracking sites but all is not what it seems.

It would be a poor company that doesn't learn from its experiences.

And so it is that (apparently) Cuadrilla has taken steps to protect the integrity of access to the sites it plans to drill from.

We heard on Thursday that at each of the sites currently being considered for planning applications (Roseacre and Little Plumpton) tents had gone up and were being occupied by physically well developed chaps, and something called a 'Section 6' notice fixed to the point of entry. (The gate had also been secured with a padlock).

We were subsequently told it was believed these were ex-military chaps belonging to a recently formed security company, who were squatting on the site.

We also heard it had been alleged they were being used as Cuadrilla's strong men in order to keep everyone else off.

So we went along to have a look and record the scene for counterbalance readers.

Legal warning notice

And sure enough, as well as the planning and environmental notices on the field gate at Little Plumpton, there was a 'Section 6' notice prohibiting entry, and one tiny bivouac (that didn't look big enough to accommodate a person) pitched in front of a car sitting in the middle of the field, and one other tiny bivouac tent just behind the hedge by the field gate.

There was also a demarcation line of small thin posts that could looked like (but may not have been) an electrified fence in a large sort of arc around the entrance gate.

We had parked our vehicle quite some way away and reached the entrance gate on foot, so we appeared on the narrow grass verge at the field gate to photograph the notice 'unexpectedly'. That wasn't intentional, it was just because the road was busy and we didn't think it very safe to stop on the side of the road at the entrance gate.

But no sooner had we appeared than the car door opened and the burly looking occupant was out and heading for us.

Legal warning on the fracking site

We had a very pleasant conversation with him and he was perfectly charming. We explained we were just taking a photograph of the notice and asked if it was intended to prevent other people entering the land - as had happened at Balcome and Barton Moss. The reply was affirmative.

We empathised with his situation having only a vehicle and a tiny tent (and no apparent sanitation arrangements) and the fact that it was just starting the heavy rain that was forecast for the next 24 hours. We understood him to say a portacabin was arriving later in the day.

And with that we left, wondering if we had been the only 'excitement' he had received to break the monotony of his sojourn.

We later had a brief look at the background to the 'Section 6' Notice.

It refers to S6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (As amended by Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) and is intended to protects the rights of occupiers of properties. It's normally used *by* squatters who display such a notice to inform people of their rights - and let people know they are aware of their rights.

In essence such a notice usually says

  • We live here
  • It is our home and we intend to stay here.
  • There will always be at least one person in the property.
  • That entry or attempted entry without our permission is a criminal offence because anyone present and in physical possession is opposed to entry without our permission.
  • Prosecution will meet any violence or the threat of violence
  • That removal of the occupants will take a County or High Court order under S12a of the Act
  • That knowingly making false statements is also a separate criminal offence

Sure enough, the notice at the Little Plumpton field gate has many, but perhaps crucially, not all, of these features.

One thing it didn't say was that this is our home and we intend to live here.

That may be fatal flaw in the method that seems to have been employed to keep people out.

As we understand it, Section 6 carries a requirement that the property be designed or adapted for use as a place to live in order for the for the offence to apply.

So far as we can see, it is not a house and may not - if tested in law - fall within the scope of the new law.

We're told that although it may seem obvious, there are areas of law where a great amount of judicial consideration has been given to what is and is not, a house, and the position is still not entirely clear.

And the new offence under Section6 simply does not address the question of mixed use property.

So we'd say it's far from certain that the ducks are all in a straight line.

But then, who's going to test it?

However, if what we heard was right and these folk are not so much claiming the right to occupy the site on their own account, but are acting as an agent of Cuadrilla, it does seem strange that Cuadrilla has found it necessary to use or allow people to squat on the land they control in order to have them stop other people from going onto it.

Mind you, a tented camp of protestors (as at Barton Moss or Balcome) probably wouldn't be too difficult to accommodate anyway if there was a demand for it.

Just a couple of hundred yards from the site there's a big blue sign that said something like 'Camping and Caravans - pitches available for hire'

So maybe that campsite could be the first business in Mr Fallon's supply chain to enjoy the fracking bonanza.

Perhaps they'd like to apply to his 2m business-persons fund and see if they can get an even bigger sign. They'd be well advised to go for one of those posh signs that reflects light (like the motorway signs) That way, once the big gas flame flaring starts, their sign would be even more visible.

Talking of signs, a there are some quite spectacular ones that have just gone up on the A583 not too far from the site. The biggest of these is on a moveable cart situated on private land and it is uncompromising in its message.

Fracking warning sign

There are a clutch of signs carrying more detailed messages too

A clutch of anti fracking signs

They appear to be on land that we believe belongs to Maple Farm Nurseries who are growers of extra large and semi-mature trees and shrubs in big containers.

We know the nursery owner (and knew his father before him), and we recognise them as capable business people, decent folk and having a gardener's care for the environment.

He's putting his business at risk doing what he has done, because we suspect quite a proportion of his sales will come form local authorities, and when a man is prepared to take such risks for something he believes in, then whether you believe fracking to be right or wrong, you have to respect his integrity, his willingness to take a stand, and his courage.

We certainly do.

But we wonder how long it will be before FBC's planners visit him threatening to take enforcement action against the erection of his unauthorised signs.

But if they do that, we'd equally expect them to take the same sort of enforcement action on the unauthorised use of a field 800 yards further along the A583 for residential purposes, where there are now tents (and soon there will be a residential 'portacabin').

And if this initiative *is* at Cuadrilla's behest, and they try to argue the encampment on the field is not a residential use, then we suspect their Section 6 notice probably won't be worth the paper it is written on.

Dated:  4 July 2014


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