Local force pays
to police fracking

Lancashire Constabulary has called for extra funding to police fracking protests but will need to make a formal application to the Home Office first

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Lancashire Constabulary is expected to fund the next six months of policing the fracking protests in the county, at a cost of an estimated £2.5 million, the Home Office has said.

The force revealed it spent £200,000 on top of its budget for the last financial year manning Cuadrilla’s test drilling site at Preston New Road near Blackpool. And it estimates the cost will be around £450,000 a month from April.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has called on the government to pick up the bill and said he is seeking an urgent meeting with ministers.

“I continue to maintain the decision to give the go-ahead was made in Westminster and should be paid for by Westminster – not from Lancashire’s local policing budget,” he told Big Issue North.

But the Home Office said police authorities will need to make a formal application for funding. A spokesperson said: “There are established processes for police authorities to make an application for additional funding if they face unexpected and exceptional expenditure.”

The Home Office expects the force to make provision for the unexpected costs up to 1 per cent of its annual budget, meaning an application cannot be made until the cost exceeds £2.5 million.

Grunshaw said: “We will be submitting a claim through the established process, but we can only claim for spend above 1 per cent of our budget. So if it costs us £5 million we would only be able to claim for just under half of that and even then there is no guarantee that the Home Office will support our application.”

In the estimated six months until then Lancashire Constabulary will continue to draft in extra officers to the area from other parts of the division.

Around 100 officers a day are currently being deployed to Preston New Road and police presence could ramp up further as Cuadrilla’s activities at the site increase. The oil and gas exploration and production company is currently constructing a well pad and is expected to drill its first well and begin fracking for shale gas in subsequent weeks.

Protesters are present daily at the site, attempting to disrupt work because of their environmental concerns about the controversial gas extraction process.

Activists argue the police presence is disproportionate to their actions and that the commercial interests of Cuadrilla are being prioritised by officers over their rights to protest.

Kirkham town councillor Miranda Cox, a regular activist at Preston New Road, said: “Our rights to peaceful demonstration aren’t being fulfilled at all – we’re just feeling like the police are being used as a way to facilitate Cuadrilla.”

John Hobson of Frack Free Lancashire said: “There have been numerous very clear instances where protesters’ rights have been ignored in order to facilitate Cuadrilla and to ensure that disruption to their activities is minimised. This is not what we expect or deserve from the police.”

He added: “The police have a delicate balancing act to perform. There are times when the policing is both sensitive and proportionate, and peaceful and lawful protest is facilitated. Sadly there are also times when it is not. These are perhaps more frequent. This does seem to depend on individual commanders on the ground, who appear to set their own preferred tone for the officers present on the day.”

Lancashire Constabulary said 59 people were arrested at the Preston New Road site between 27 January and 17 March, with 47 of those being charged.

Grunshaw said: “In terms of officer numbers the Commander makes those decisions. From what I have seen and the safety risk posed to many of the protesters by their own actions on a very busy A-road, then this is a legitimate level of police presence.”

The Home Office said the decisions on how to police demonstrations are an operational matter for the police. The police can place conditions on demonstrations to manage risks of serious public disorder, serious disruption to the life of the community or serious damage to property. However, conditions cannot be placed on demonstrations on the grounds of cost alone.

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    02 May 2017 17:26
    […] has faced daily protests at Preston New Road by residents and anti-fracking campaigners, who have also targeted companies in Cuadrilla’s […]

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