When Lancashire Went Frack Free
Ebony Ava Johnson is a founding member of the ‘Frack Free Lancashire’ campaign. She began as a concerned resident and mother.
We started the Frack Free Lancashire campaign just a year ago. In Lancashire alone, there are now over 40 groups united against fracking. This week, Frack Free Lancashire stood united with campaigners from all over the UK against the dirty, deceitful fracking industry. Armed only with the truth, this is a tale of a diverse group of ordinary people who united to fight a juggernaut industry that planned to exploit Lancashire for its own gain.
Monday 29th June 2015 was a monumental day for the future of fracking in Lancashire and indeed the rest of the UK. We have come a long way. It all began four years ago, with a handful of Lancashire folk meeting in a damp wooden hut in a park to share their concerns about shale gas extraction, an alien industry that had landed in our community without our knowledge.
At times it seemed the odds were stacked against us but we have fought with passion and determination to protect our communities. Many of the communities around the world, which are now devastated by fracking, had no opportunity to stop it before it took a stranglehold on people’s lives. In that respect we are lucky. The List of the Harmed  was written in chalk down the entire length of the wall facing the Lancashire County Council building, as a constant reminder of the suffering the shale gas industry has caused to over 16,000 people in Pennsylvania alone.
Our Councillors have been under immense pressure to approve Cuadrilla’s planning applications. Tens of thousands of public objections were received alongside national media scrutiny. The world has been watching, waiting on a decision that could set a precedent for widespread fracking throughout the UK. Our week long rally outside County Hall had the most uplifting carnival atmosphere. The sounds of drums echoed a warrior’s call in the warm summer air, the sun shone on a sea of yellow t-shirts (worn by both our human and canine friends); not to forget the amazingly creative placards.
We were overwhelmed by the warmth and gratitude from passers by and high fives through car windows from people driving past. Our friends at the Beautiful Planet Café, Preston, served free tea and coffee. A whole community was behind us. Even the Lancashire Police showed they respected our cause and they hit the national news headlines for joining in with the drummers!  The atmosphere was one of true solidarity.
Inside County Hall, the planning committee heard substantial evidence and expert witness testimonies warning of the dangers of the shale gas industry. Planning officer Stuart Perigo’s report recommended approval of the Preston New Road site. Judging by the unmistakable bias within the report, something dishonest was evidently at play behind the scenes. Perigo rubbished the unprecedented number of objections. In the report, he stated that the visual impact of the development would be “moderate”, however, even Cuadrilla’s own planning document (4th March 2015) said the visual impact would be “significant”. Serious questions must be asked as to how Mr Perigo reached his conclusions.
Last week a bizarre series of events saw the meeting adjourned and Councillors ushered into a secret meeting, where they were threatened with the prospect of substantial legal costs, should they refuse the application. Subsequently the meeting was deferred for almost a week.
Yesterday, huddled around a sound system that was broadcasting the live feed from inside County Hall, a large crowd eagerly listened to the Councillor’s comments. While some Councillors expressed their intent to vote for a refusal, others supported an approval. Councillor Green said that his decision would be based on the evidence that had been presented to them. The fate of Lancashire was on a knife edge.
Then came the moment of truth. The vote. We heard the Council’s legal advisor counting the show of hands in favour of a refusal. We heard her count to 9! 9 Councillors voted in an overwhelming majority for a refusal. Knowing that was more than enough for a refusal, the crowd both inside and outside County Hall erupted into jubilant cheers. Champagne rained down into the crowd as the “Oh Lancashire” song of the Lancashire Nana’s began. In the hours that followed, people expressed their joy, relief, disbelief and shock. After the news, a parade of campaigners closed down the main street in Preston town centre, announcing the news to everyone.
To get to this point has been a truly epic journey and one that has cemented a bond within our community and also between campaigners. I have lost count of the amount of hugs I received as friends, both new and old, shared the joy of our victory.
Despite the bullying tactics they faced, our Councillors made us proud. They stood up for the people of Lancashire and for this they are heroes.
It is true that Cuadrilla may appeal the decision in the near future but today we must celebrate. People have the power to make real change. Once people realise their power, anything is possible. Ordinary Lancashire folk took on a juggernaut industry and we won. What is evident is that Monday’s result has given everyone great hope for the future. The message is loud and clear, people must come before profit. Fracking is stoppable, another world is possible and I have a feeling this is just the beginning…
Ebony Ava Johnson – Founding member of Frack Free Lancashire