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LCC – Kowtowing to Cuadrilla?

There has been much contention over the last 5 days about the way in which Cuadrilla have appropriated a patch of land over which, according to the police, the public have a right of way.

On Friday the Heras fencing at the site, which had been along the hedge line was moved forward without explanation until it met the edge of the cycle path.

It would surely be cynical to suggest that Cuadrilla’s motivation for this was to deny the area to activists who had caused them problems during the week by “locking-on”. Wouldn’t it?

It took a while to establish who gave them permission. The police didn’t know and it was only by the concerted application of pressure that a PLO finally confirmed on Monday evening that a certain Paul Smith of Lancashire County Council had emailed permission to Cuadrilla on the previous Friday.

We have now had sight of the demand made by Cuadrilla and the rubber stamp given to it by Mr Smith


Nobody we have asked (protestors, police or security staff) claims to have seen Cuadrilla make any effort to do any work which would require this fencing to be in place since they were granted permission 5 days ago.

We do not believe that the granting of this permission, without any qualification or detailed consideration, demonstrates an adequate duty of care for the interests of all of the stakeholders so we have, today had this exchange of emails with Mr Smith. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whether his response is satisfactory.

From me to Paul Smith – 14 March 09:40

Dear Mr Smith

I am writing to express my serious concern about the permission which you have apparently granted to Cuadrilla to move their Heras fencing out over the public footway at the side of Preston New Road to the edge of the cycle lane.

I understand that this permission was granted to them by email from yourself, ostensibly to allow them to carry out some work on utilities and sight lines, last Friday (10th March).

This raises the following questions:

1. Is the footway a right of way? If so were the procedures laid down here adhered to and where was the closure advertised?

http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/roads-parking-and-travel/public-rights-of-way/request-a-temporary-closure.aspx

2. Is there a time limit on the permission. If so what is it? If not, why not? You will of course be aware that although the fences were moved 5 days ago there has been no sign of any work whatsoever on sight lines or utilities in the vicinity of the fence.

3. Why was permission granted to block the footway in its entirety? This is totally unnecessary as any work on sight lines could be done with fencing at either end, not spanning the entire ~20 metres of the footway. Presumably the same is true of work on utilities.

4. Why was a condition not imposed that the Heras fencing should only be moved out while work was in progress and moved back when work was not being done. According to staff on site it would only take 5 minutes to move the fencing in and out, so allowing the footway to be blocked continually is clearly disproportionate.

Pending your response to the above I would be grateful if you would provide a copy of the permission email so that we can validate what is being done against what had been permitted.

As one police officer commented to me yesterday, “You know why Cuadrilla have done this, we know why Cuadrilla have done this, it is just LCC who don’t”.

As long as Cuadrilla are facilitated in blocking legitimate protest by flaunting the permission they have got from you and closing off an area where protest has taken place, then evidence suggests that that protest will simply move as you saw yesterday. The result yesterday was that a highway for which you are responsible got blocked by protest on a lorry.

If I might proffer a suggestion, you would satisfy any of Cuadrilla’s genuine requirements and make the police’s job much easier if you rescinded the permission that you have apparently granted Cuadrilla and reissued a more qualified permission which takes in to account the reality of the situation, and not what is convenient to  Cuadrilla.

Kind regards

John

From Paul Smith to me – 14 March 10:10

Mr Hobson

Further to your email below I have the following responses:

1. the area of highway fenced off is not a footway but is a grass verge

2. there is no particular time limit as the placing of the fencing at the approved location does not have any impact on the general travelling public

3. as previously stated, it is not a footway but is in fact a grass verge

4. as the location of the fencing does not affect the general travelling public I am happy for the fencing to remain in position until all the remedial works have been carried out.

Please find attached a copy of my email granting permission for the positioning of the fence.

[No sign off or signature – emails between Paul Smith and Nick Mace shown above attached]

From me to Paul Smith – 14 March 10:47

Mr Smith

1. The police in attendance at PNR (both PLOs and TAU) have made it very clear that they regard the grass verge and the tarmaced space in between the hedges, as an area to which the public has a right of access. They routinely describe is as a “footway”. Would you please clarify the legal basis on which you appear to be claiming that it is not.

2. Whilst the general travelling public may not be directly impacted by the fencing, you clearly have a duty to ensure that the rights of pedestrians are taken into account. You appear not to have considered the position of pedestrians as stakeholders in this decision that you have taken. Would you please clarify the basis on which you have discounted the rights of the many people who have continually used the area under discussion over the last 2 months

3. Regardless of whether you call it a footway or a verge, you have given indefinite permission for Cuadrilla to block off an area to which the police have confirmed on multiple occasions people have a legitimate right of access. From the email trail below you seem to have rubber stamped a demand from Cuadrilla (it is not phrased as a request is it?) without question, and without imposing any conditions or limitations, or considering any ways in which the impact could have been mitigated by limiting the scope of the permission. In acting in this way you have failed to take into account the needs and rights of all of the stakeholders concerned. Again I think it fair to ask you to explain why.

4. Again you seem to ignore the needs and rights of the many people who have used this area over the last two months. You appear to have been given no indication of the likely duration of whatever works may be envisaged, nor do you appear to have asked for such information. If you did perhaps you would be kind enough to provide some documentary evidence of that.

Having been made aware of the issues involved and the inflammatory potential of your decision, I am genuinely surprised and disappointed that you should adopt such a dismissive attitude towards the issues raised.

I would request that you pay this matter more attention and then respond more positively to me as one of Lancashire’s council tax payers. If you prefer not to then I will escalate this within the council, with my own representative and with the police.

Regards

John Hobson

Mr Smith has now replied as follows

Mr Hobson

1.       If the Police routinely describe this area as footway, unfortunately they are incorrect.  The area in question is a grass verge with the footway being on the south side of Preston New Road.
2.       The rights of pedestrians are taken into account by the availability of the footway on the southern side of Preston New Road.  This is no different to any site of a similar nature
3.       Permission has been granted for the duration of the remedial works.  As you will see from the email from Cuadrilla, I will be informed when the works have been completed.  As previously stated, as there is no effect on the general travelling public I have no particular concerns regarding the timescale of the remedials subject to them being carried out in a timely manner
4.       The area of adopted highway that is now fenced off for the remedial works to be carried out is far less than the area cordoned off whilst the access was being constructed.  This is a vast improvement for the general travelling public.
5.       I have not taken a “dismissive attitude to the issues raised” but have answered the queries raised.

Regards

Paul Smith

To which I have responded at 1pm

Mr Smith

Thank you for your reply which I will discuss with police officers on site before reverting to you or escalating this further.

I note the expansion of the email recipients to include Sgt Hill and your other colleagues.

kind regards

John Hobson

Having discussed with local PLOs and the Chief Constable of Lancashire who was visiting the site today, I decided to check what the status of the land now was, given the open ended permission given by Mr Smith to Cuadrilla, so I emailed the Head of Planning ad 16:45 this evening

Dear Mr Mullaney

With relation to the email trail below, can I please ask you to confirm whether the permission to move the fence, granted to Cuadrilla by your colleague Mr Smith, means that the extra land now within the barrier is officially part of the works area of the development site, and therefore subject to the same planning regulations, development control and other planning department protocols?

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards

John Hobson

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