A day like no other - protests as North Yorkshire debates fracking plan

THE contrast could not have been more stark.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 20th May 2016, 2:16 pm
Updated Friday, 20th May 2016, 3:21 pm
Protesters outside County Hall. Image: Gary Longbottom
Protesters outside County Hall. Image: Gary Longbottom

Inside, in the century old surroundings of Northallerton’s County Hall, the formal proceedings of North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee steadily proceeded through the day.

Speaker after speaker took their opportunity to raise concerns on issues ranging from health and the environment to traffic, house prices and global warming over Third Energy’s plan to frack at a site close to Kirby Misperton.

Planning committee chairman Peter Sowray sternly warned he would keep each speaker to their time limit, a promise he maintained ruthlessly.

Protesters outside County Hall. Image: Gary Longbottom

The 50 or so people capable of sitting in the room at any one time just about managed to keep to his instruction that there should be no applauding or cheering. I

They did not need to. Every speaker’s contribution was greeted with a chorus of approval from outside that drifted through the Hall’s giant windows..

Because outside, something akin to a small festival was taking place.

First in the morning drizzle and more enthusiastically as the sun broke through, protesters banged drums, brandished placards, waved roses and sang. Nursery rhymes and even Jerusalem had their lyrics changed in support of the anti-fracking cause.

Protesters outside County Hall. Image: Gary Longbottom

And if the strength of their arguments or the gusto of their singing did not win you over, there was always the cake.

As many as one thousand protesters had been predicted ahead of the meeting. The actual figure appeared to be somewhere between two and three hundred.

They were greeted on their arrival by fences and security guards, an incongruous sight to regular visitors to the normally sedate surroundings of County Hall.

Even the building was clad in what appeared to be protective scaffolding although that turned out to be for roof repairs, rather than to prevent an invasion.

And for all the security, this was a thoroughly good natured protest.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was set to be the star turn at Northallerton’s answer to Glastonbury but she had to pull out at the last minute through ill health.

Her speech was nevertheless greeted with cheers as it was read out by a Friends of the Earth activist from the small stage in front of County Hall.

“Lancashire councillors have already said no to fracking. North Yorkshire county councillors must do the same. They must listen to local people who don’t want fracking. They must listen to the district council who don’t want fracking.

“They all know that fracking is a dirty, polluting industry that isn’t needed or wanted in North Yorkshire,” it said.

While the proceedings of the Grand Meeting Committee room could not compete with the sound and colour of events on the lawns outside, there were plenty of unexpected twists and turns.

John Ashton, a former Special Representative for Climate Change at the Foreign Office, cited St Cuthbert as he made his case to the 11-strong committee. The archangel Gabriel made an appearance in another presentation.

Former newspaper boss and Settrington resident Sir Richard Storey produced a series of cartoons and a pair of scales to demonstrate the potential benefits and drawbacks of fracking. The scales were firmly tipped against.

At the start of the meeting, Coun Sowray admitted his committee had never been involved with a planning application quite like this one.

Surely Northallerton has never seen a day quite like this.