BY RUTH HAYHURST ON JULY 25, 2017
Police closed the road outside Cuadrilla’s Lancashire shale gas site for eight hours today in response to anti-fracking protests.
Opponents of the company’s activities at Preston New Road near Blackpool took part in a sit-down protest and climbed onto two vehicles as police tried to bring lorries into the site.
Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said the protest was “causing delay and misery” to commuters, visitors and businesses.
Frack Free Lancashire blamed today’s blockage on the police for escorting a convoy of vehicles and encouraging two lorries to occupy both lanes of the road.
The A583 Preston New Road was closed in both directions at about 8.30am, for more than two miles, between Whitehills roundabout and Fox Lane Ends.
At 5pm, police opened one lane and operated a contraflow. A post on the Fylde Police Facebook page said “campaigners remained on top of vehicles and in road”.
The national campaign group, Reclaim the Power, which has been co-ordinating a month of direct action protests at Preston New Road, said eight trucks had been blockaded.
Yesterday the group said there had been 16 consecutive working days of disruption outside the site.
“Apology needed for inconvenience”
Mr Egan said this was the fourth complete road closure in as many weeks. He said there had also been eight more partial road closures.
In a statement this afternoon he said:
“We condemn today’s ongoing closure of the Preston New Road by protestors since 8.30am this morning.
“No responsible person can claim this is peaceful or lawful protest when it is causing delay and misery to local commuters, businesses and people visiting the area during the holiday season.
“Far from boasting online about their illegal exploits, the national activists from Reclaim The Power should publicly apologise to all those road users that they continue to inconvenience due to their self-serving, publicity seeking and foolish actions.
“We will exercise our democratic right to carry on with our lawful work at Preston New Road which is progressing to plan.”
“Successful tactics against unwanted industry”
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said:
“We understand Cuadrilla’s frustration at the successful tactics being employed against their attempts to impose this unwanted industry on the people of Lancashire.
“However, this morning’s total blockage would not have been required had Police not resorted to escorting a convoy and encouraging two HGVs to occupy two lanes, which was unsafe and inappropriate.
“We also note Mr Egan’s claim that his work is ‘progressing to plan’ but believe it has as much credibility as his repeated and misleading claims about the size of the well pad being the same size as a rugby pitch.”
Criticism of police
Police were criticised on social media by both sides of the argument.
In a comment on the Fylde Police Facebook page, Adam Saunders:
“Why are these people not being arrested on the spot? I’m pretty sure if average joe had a few to many beers got on a wagon and hurled abuse at you…. They would be arrested?”
Phil Cardwell said:
“You are failing in your duty to the people of the Fylde Coast that you are supposed to serve. Allowing anarchists to blockade a blue light route. How much more do we have to take? Get the road open NOW!”
Dan Tudor-Pole said the police should edit their Facebook post from “due to protester activity” to “due to Cuadrilla activity”. He said:
“These people are doing the right thing and stopping this dirty industry form taking place in the Fylde. This is the first drill pad of many, the Fylde will be absolutely covered in them if Cuadrilla and co get their way. We said NO.”
Claire Stevo said:
“Why is there an HGV straddling two lanes? How did it get there? Cuadrilla have no right to commandeer an entire road. Convoys were not part of the original traffic plan.”