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Reclaim the Power?

Reclaim the Power?A great unwashed army of miscreants and environmental zealots is on its way to Fylde - or at least that's what some people think.

It's all to do with 'Reclaim the Power's 'Anti Fracking Action Camp' running from 14th to 20th August, and it's coming to a field (at least we expect it will be a field) somewhere in Fylde, pitching up, so to speak, on Thursday 14th.

Always one to keep up to date with events, we went along to the pre-camp meeting at the - rather swish - Hilton Hotel no less, last Monday to see what it was all about, and bring a report for our readers.

We didn't see any miscreants or zealots.

The event had a very civilised start - with tea and coffee and lemon drizzle cake being served in the foyer, and the doors opened at about 7:15 to a well set up room with screen, projector, tables with leaflets and so at the back (and even a couple of video cameras to photograph the proceedings).

We counted roughly 130 people at the meeting. A few were in yellow T Shirts signifying membership of one or other fracking group, but most seemed to us to be ordinary members of the public who wanted to know more about it.

Reclain the Power meeting

The meeting started with a very businesslike lady (you could tell she was in business because she was clearly used giving instructions to get things done ;-)) called Michelle, explaining that she was from Freckleton and had first heard about fracking when Freckleton Parish Council held an information evening - at which she was amazed how little they seemed to know about it. She didn't like the sound of what she heard, and became involved and undertook research which convinced her even more, and she met more people, and got involved in the campaign.

MichelleShe said the meeting would address a little bit about fracking was, and what's been happening in Fylde, but they were really excited because they had 'Reclaim the Power' who had come to the meeting and later, they would explain what their campaign was about. They were going to spend a whole week in Blackpool supporting the anti-fracking groups locally.

She said - and we agreed - that "...this conjured up all sorts of questions. Who were they? Why are they bringing a thousand people we don't know to Blackpool? What are they going to be doing during that week? What activities are they going to be doing?"

She said they were very pleased to have a guest who had come up all the way from Balcombe for the evening to explain his perspective, because he saw it all as a Balcombe resident last year when 'Reclaim the Power' arrived, and he was going to relate his experience of events in our own 'deep south'.

Finally she concluded the introduction by saying there would be lots of opportunity for questions and answers at the end, and introduced Tina Louise, who picked up a solid round of applause even before she spoke. She has been a mainstay of the anti fracking groups in Fylde since quite early on. She knows her way around, and is also very able.

Tina RotheryShe said those who had been fighting the fracking thing for several years were more used to roadsides, village halls and camp-fires, so to be in the luxury of the Hilton was, she said, a good step in the right direction. This was partly because it showed that although it began in the environmental movement (and she wasn't from that end of things), concern had now journeyed right through society and it involved all sectors of society because it affects everyone who uses water and air.

She explained that local groups had called 'Reclaim the Power' - it wasn't them saying 'Hey! we're coming to invade Blackpool'

Tina said "For three years since the earthquakes in Blackpool in 2011, when Cuadrilla first came very quietly and started drilling at Preese Hall, and then it set off two seismic events in 2011. When it set those off they didn't say 'Whoops, we did that' - what they did was carry on fracking and they carried on pushing all the slick water into the fault line for a further six weeks before they were forced to stop"

She said "It's now accepted that Cuadrilla caused that."

She went on to explain what fracking was and how it worked, and what the concerns were. She concluded "So the fight has been for three years, honest, legal, lawful, above board, we've used every tool that democracy can give us to use. We've objected to planning permission, we've lobbied our MP's, we've challenged our councillors, we've posed questions, we've given evidence in the House of Lords. There is nothing more we can find in the toolbox marked 'legal'.


We've run out of options, they just keep on ignoring us. And yet we've grown from a handful of groups three years ago to more than 270 groups across the country.

The largest growing area of opposition is here. Right here and we've now got 20 groups in Lancashire and we grow at approximately 1 to two new groups a week."

But because they were not being listened to, she said  "So we called 'Reclaim the Power' this year and said 'We need your help'."

Michelle then said she was really excited to introduce Hannah and Danni who were volunteers from Reclaim the Power and had taken time from their regular jobs to come up to talk about what was planned.

HannahHannah went first. She explained that she worked full time for a children's charity, and went to Balcombe last year more or less as a 'first timer' and was inspired by the solidarity the camp shared with local residents.

She was followed by Danni who had a background in environmental campaigning.

With clear diction and precisely chosen words this was an able and intelligent lady.  It was also pretty clear that her personal agenda was much wider than fracking because - as she said - she has been involved in campaigns and direct action against gas fired power stations for example.

From that she had moved to the idea of holding a camp. She spoke of the 'Anti-cuts' movement and 'Occupy' who (readers will recall took up residence on the steps of St Pauls in London for a while), and said groups such as these were really about social justice, equality, and democracy as much as the environment.

She said supporters of these causes - from a whole range of groups - all came together to form 'Reclaim the Power'

She argued it was all about who had the power, who makes the decisions, and that the power should be reclaimed for 'us'.

We'll probably get shot for being as patronising as we're about to be, but we too remember the idealism of our younger years and it sounded an awful lot like hers. And - just as she appeared to believe - we too had used the word  'us' in the same context when justifying something we wanted to do, (irrespective of our not being publicly elected), but rather because we thought we knew best what was needed.

SpeakerShe went on to say that they were seeing anti-fracking groups popping up all over the country, and so when the call came from Balcombe, with only two weeks to go, they said OK and they went to join local residents.

Then she showed some slides of the camp at Balcombe that looked to us like a 'slightly less well organised than usual' agricultural show.

We got the impression that the camp was all very equality and environmentally conscious, with no leaders as such, just community decisions about who would prep the (vegan) food, who would wash up and so on.

But what they had done to attract attention to the cause was to undertake some stunts such as supergluing themselves together, and broadcasting an unguarded and embarrassing quotation from Cuadrilla's PR company's head honcho,  from the rooftop of the company HQ for a day. That sort of thing.

When asked why direct action? she replied "Because as Tina said, sometimes it's not enough to simply sit and ask politely" adding that it was really important that "we stand up for ourselves, we take action, and that is how progress is made"

She has a point. Whether it's the right thing to do is a bit more open in our mind. But when you believe so passionately that the end justifies the means, then you no doubt come to her point of view.

Then Hannah returned to the mike and some showed slides to explain what happened at Balcombe last year and to "debunk a couple of myths". She said about 1,000 people attended the camp last year and attended workshops, seminars and discussions, and prepared together to take action.

On the Sunday they had a 'Solidarity Sunday' where everyone gathered and about 2,000 people went on the march that day, standing in solidarity with the local people in Balcombe.

The Monday was a day of direct action in Balcombe itself and some what she called satellite actions all to raise public awareness of the issue.

She said "the sum total of the camp and the direct action was to send a message to Cuadrilla that   'We don't want fracking here. Love. The UK'"

She said she did not expect the activity planned for this year would depart significantly from that of last year - solidarity, direct action, campaigning, workshops, information sharing, skilling people up for local action and so on.

She said they were very keen to "Join the dots between economic injustice, social injustice,  and climate injustice" (We're not exactly sure what this means, but it sounds as though it could involve things quite a bit wider than simply fracking).

She said the actual programme for the week was on their website and our readers can follow this link to see the programme for this area.

When she finished, Michelle introduced the chap called Charles from Balcombe who had come to put the resident's perspective.

Charles from SussexHe spoke with a soft, Sussex accent, in measured, gentle tones and the sort of trust and reliability you expect from a favoured uncle. He positively oozed trust. (which, we think was probably whey he had been invited)

He was a worthy choice. He said he was an ordinary resident of quite a small village, and lived about 800 metres from the drill site, which itself was less than a mile from the centre of the village of Balcombe. He said he didn't really know what was going to happen to him three years ago, but it had all changed the course of his life.

He said he especially wanted to address those who were not yet members of an anti-fracking group because he said they were in the position he was in three years ago.

Quoting from the Telegraph investment column called 'Shale gas: The Dot Com Bubble of Our Times' he said a respected investment expert's assertion that shale gas extraction wasn't going to make any money. He argued that if that was the case and it wasn't going to make any real money for the companies, how could it be expected to bring down energy prices, ensure energy security, or create more jobs? He said these were all myths.

He said he was "delighted" when 'Reclaim the Power' had said they would switch their camp that year to Balcombe, and they had a wonderful Sunday when about a thousand people walked down from the village, not all villagers, some had come down from London, and another thousand or so came up from the protest camp that had been established for about three months by the time 'Reclaim the Power' arrived.

He said the march had been a "terrific atmosphere, a completely peaceful atmosphere. Yes, we were next to the hated drilling site guarded in substantial numbers by policemen - who probably would have preferred to be somewhere else, but we were there telling news crews and journalists what we thought about it, we were singing, there was dancing, we were making speeches, and it was a very empowering kind of event"

He went on to say "I went down to the camp a couple of time because I wanted to see what these guys looked like - you know, whether they were frightening, terrifying creatures who would be scaling the walls of our gardens and decorating our houses with frightening slogans, and actually, what I found was a group of several hundred people, who were incredibly well organised... the power went off at 11pm, so there was no loud music after 11pm, it was all very civilised as this community of people talked to each other about the difficulties facing us. They were peaceful and shared a common love of the environment getting together, trying to think of ways that they could further their ideals"

"So, to any of you who may be worrying that there's going to be a field full of terrifying creatures here, over the next weekend, please don't. It's not like that at all."

He said the aim "was to bring the attention of the outside world to what you're trying to do, with a little touch of lightness, just a smile, rather than an angry,  flag-waving rant. And that I think is what Reclaim the Power here will be. You have nothing to fear, these are good people"

He was very reassuring and did a good job.

After a short break, Michelle introduced two chaps (James and Don) from 'Reclaim the Power' Don was clearly the international connection because he spoke with a pronounced Australian accent and said he had been following the fracking process there for a long time.

The event then turned to questions from those present. There were several and they were answered mostly by the panel of folk on the photo below/

Panel for questions

Parking - the camp had no parking, so how would people get there (wherever it was). Don said it was a fantastic question. They would be putting on shuttlebuses from the train station and so on, and their website would be updated with information as stuff like that got sorted out, and if people checked their website on 14th, that would say where the campsite was.

Tina Louise said people should also go to the Residents Action on Fylde Fracking website and sign up for a newsletter because information would be sent out to everyone on the mailing list as soon as they can. She said "Obviously, we can't say where the camp is until the camp is, otherwise there wouldn't be a camp."

Other questions were more about the fracking itself, one was about whether shale gas would include chemicals when it came through your cooker, another lady was very frightened as to what fracking would do and wanted reassurance.

Another was worried that businesses in particular didn't seem to be supporting residents, and that "A certain fraternity in Blackpool see shale gas drilling as the best thing that's happened to the economy of Blackpool for years, and that of course means the business fraternity"

A councillor from West Lancashire District said "Cuadrilla made a very very thorough infiltration in the local business community and into the elected members.... they went into every single business, promising them spin-offs in the future, all you've got to do is play ball, even to such an extent that when we were trying to secure an apprenticeship for our youngest son in engineering, I approached a friend who knew someone who had a firm and they said yes, we could find an apprenticeship, but you've got to tell his father to stop bad-mouthing the fracking industry.

It's very very clandestine, and its very corrupting. It is corruption in the truest sense of the word. So the problem is that those people in the business community are not looking past the end of their nose"

Michelle said she was in business herself, and that you couldn't generalise for all businesses, but she agreed they did have difficulty getting the message across to business. She said "I know the Chamber [presumably the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce] have done a dastardly thing by coming out as pro-fracking. I did go to the Chamber, I did challenge the Chief Executive, I did ask her if we could come and present to the Chamber about anti fracking, and about all the evidence we had. I was turned down twice. I'm still a member of the Chamber - my company is. I stay as a member of the Chamber because I think you can only do something from the inside"

Another question was about how the cracks filled in after about nine months and had to be fracked again, so the lady questioner thought they should focus on the investors to convince them of the potential poor returns. She also asked how fracking had developed in Australia.

Don replied to say it was really devastating to see what industry did to a town. Setting aside any environmental or health concerns, it was awful what happened to the town. He said "What you see is every other single activity in the town is completely crushed and the town becomes hostage then to this voracious mining industry with it's really short term boom and bust.

A whole bunch of people come from outside. They need accommodation, they need cheap places to eat. They need places to get really pissed, and whatever else they, you, know [at this point we think he was too polite to allude to the issue we have flagged up a few times, that a large influx of men on their own would be good for the business districts of Blackpool's Central Drive and Cookson Street areas]  the businesses that can meet their basic needs"

He warned that the price of a beer and a coffee and other items would go up very significantly locally, suggesting the equivalent of £5 a pint might be expected. He said that would last for a year or a couple of years, with a lot of money going into accommodation and that sort of thing. But when they go, the fabric of the town has been completely destroyed. It's money for a few people but the rest have to pick up thee pieces when they [the fracking crews] leave.

He said there was a chance for the UK to stop it before it started, but in Australia they had a line - more or less halfway across the country (basically the border between New South Wales and Queensland) where they had been able to defend about half of the country but the other half had been lost.

In the north of New South Wales, when the drilling company said they would come, but about 3,000 people turned up to stop them and the company backed off, and eventually the Government gave in on the morning that they were planning to put a thousand police officers into the field to clear away the people who had set up a blockade camp, the Government had said - actually we won't do that because that's going to be a disaster for us, what we're going to do is take away the license of the company and say they hadn't consulted the community.

He said that was a really clear example of how, by getting enough people together, you can stop the industry in their tracks, just by getting together and saying 'No'. and telling the Government that we're just not going to tolerate this.

The final question asked why, with all the publicity they had had, they had not been able to fill the room, and fracking was going to come in because there wasn't enough groundswell against it, and he thought wave power was the answer.

Tina Louise said she agreed about the power of tidal energy, but said the attitude of  'implied inevitability' was the hardest fight they had, and the Government so relied on that. She said in a democracy the Government must listen to the people.

She said "and as for the people in this room, there's measurement which says that for every one who turns out at a thing like this, there are another 80, but the other 79 couldn't make it because life is not easy, life is really had and we are all busy, and its very hard to make time for this"

We wondered where she got that number from (given that it was a stat we published in the last counterbalance. Maybe she is a reader, or perhaps she talks to the same people we do from time to time :-).

Michelle closed the meeting with thanks to the organisers and everyone who attended, and a call to arms (well not actually, but metaphorically) and that was it.

Or it was supposed to be, but one of the chaps from a local anti fracking group decided he wanted to say a few words and took up the microphone. He wasn't especially controversial, but he is passionate, and his passion sometimes come across as being hectoring - which is exactly the opposite of the calm and measured tones the people from Reclaim the Power had skilfully employed, (and especially the chap from Balcombe had used). As a result, it seemed to us as though he was undoing a lot of the good work that the evening had done.

Others must have thought so as well because there was an (inaudible to us) comment from the speakers front row, which was returned with hostility, and an approach from one of the other group members saw the microphone thrown down in disgust and the chap stormed off to the back of the room.

We understand his frustration, but he did create the talking point of the meeting when it really ought to have been something else.

So there we have it. The man from Balcombe says there is nothing to fear, 'Reclaim the Power' are good people and it will help to stop fracking in Fylde.

We don't think that will wear with the business community in Blackpool especially who have been seduced by catering for the 'basic needs' of men looking for fracking opportunities in the area, and we confidently expect to see a large police presence which will give the pro-fracking lobby something to complain about.

And so the stage is set for a week of action which starts a week today next Thursday.

And  to mark an early salvo in that battle, we see that at 5am this morning, a field at Westby - said to be one earmarked for development by shale gas company Cuadrilla (and just a few fields away from the one occupied by Cuadrilla's security guards), was occupied by 'a team of around 25 grandmothers, mothers and others from the Blackpool area'

They claim to have set up a 'protection camp' because, having for three years tried all lawful methods available to stop ‘fracking’ they say it is now a matter of necessity. 

We're also told that 5,000 objection letters to the planning application have been handed into the council offices in Preston by others from the Frack Free Lancashire coalition of local anti-fracking groups.

We understand a further 10,000 are expected to be delivered over the coming weeks.

When asked how long they intended to stay, a spokesperson for the group said :

"We wanted to be sure that whilst LCC considers the Cuadrilla request, that they consider what we want too, as mothers and grandmothers who worry for the safety of the next generations as well as our own. We will have a week to further raise awareness and will be offering tea and cake to visitors as well as a wealth of important and honest information about what living in a shale gas area would be like. Then we will join with the Reclaim the Power camp in their actions. We have no defined end-date and are using a ‘Section 6’ to hold the space we have taken (as security guards have done on behalf of Cuadrilla just a few fields away – setting the precedent) as well as a ‘144 Disclaimer’ to ensure we continue to act within the law.”

The group is said to include people from

  • Garstang Against Fracking,
  • Frack Free Fylde
  • Fleetwood Folk Say No To Fracking
  • Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking
  • Longridge Against Fracking
  • Keep East Lancashire Frack Free
  • Thornton Unites against Fylde Fracking
  • Frack Free Blackpool
  • Frack Free Creators – Knitting Nannas Lancashire

as well as residents from nearby the proposed site.

So they look to be keeping the grass warm for those folk from Reclaim the Power who are coming next week.

We hope to bring our readers more news as this story unfolds.

Dated:    7 Aug 2014


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