At 5pm on 19 Oct 2022, environmental campaigners representing Sandwich Environmental Conservation Group, East Kent Climate Action, Transition town Dover and East Kent Against Fracking gathered in front of Dover District Council (DDC) chambers at Whitfield. Like many across England, they asked their local council to stand up with them against the betrayals by the chaotic Conservative central ‘government’. The two environmental betrayals are the #AttackOnNature denounced by Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB since 23rd Sept 2022 and the lifting of the Fracking moratorium announced by Liz Truss’s Business Minister the same week. (There are many other betrayals relating to the crashing of the economy and sending cost of living crisis into overdrive).
The environmental campaigners’ action was in support of 2 questions from members of the public on the agenda. Pete Findley of Mongeham asked DDC cabinet for evidence that DDC were genuinely providing protections for wildlife habitats with the new Dover Local Plan due to go for its second public consultation between 21 October and 9 December. Sarah Waite-Gleave asked the DDC cabinet to renew their 2013 commitment to oppose fracking for shale or methane gas and the poisoning of the water table hydrologists / geologists consider is likely to accompany it in Kent’s fragile chalk aquifers. Both are community and Green party campaigners.
Labour opposition cllr Helen Williams also tabled a motion , briefed by above campaigner:
DDC completely oppose fracking in any land within our council area, and will oppose any planning application for this
None of the risks have gone away
In the chamber, Cllr Williams explained she brought the motion because of the possibility being put back on the 2022 agenda by Truss government. She cited many risks that DDC Scrutiny committee registered in 2013, including water issues in a water stressed area, water contamination, noting that none of the risks had gone away.
The leader of the Labour opposition group cllr Mills seconded the motion stating, ‘on the issue this council has a long-standing commitment since 2013, which makes it easy to support this motion, the issue of pre-determination is an evasion. We should stand up and tell residents, this is where we draw the line. We need a recorded vote on this issue.’
Response from the Conservatives
The response from the Conservative majority was voiced by the cabinet member for Finance, Governance, Digital and Climate Change, Cllr Chris Vinson, who said, “This council isn’t ultimately the decision maker. . . , we are a statutory consultee. The name escapes me of the arms length body that deals with licensing, they and KCC are involved. When and if an application comes up, our response should reflect all the concerns [water resources, roads, traffic, lights ] we had in 2013. The sentiment I agree with, but I can’t support this motion, we can’t be seen to pre-determine in anyway. Our current policy is reasonable and should stand, but I can’t support this motion.
The vote was as follows: Abstentions 4 Bond – Chandler – Hannent – Collor – (Conservatives absent: Back, Manion, Kenton, Richardson ) For 10 Beer – Biggs – Brivio – Cronk – Haste – Keen – Mills – Williams – Woodgate – Walker (Labour absent Jones, Zosseder ) Against 12 Bartlett – Bates – Beaney – Friend – Vinson – Conelly – Hawkes – Hibbert – Jull – Murphy – Rose – Walkden – Total 32 cllrs
Party before community
Sarah Waite-Gleave said afterwards: ‘since 23 Sept 2022, Conservative councils across England have been voting to oppose fracking, to put community before party to distance themselves from Conservative chaos in Westminster. Most recently at West Sussex County council on 14 Oct they voted to oppose fracking, which does nothing for energy bills or fuel security. Alas Dover Conservative cabinet have chosen tonight to put party before community and Ms Elphicke in parliament has also put party before the future health of her constituents tonight too.’ (Editor’s note: this refers to the vote on fracking that took place in the House of Commons on 19 Oct)
At Sunak’s first Prime Minister’s questions on 26 Oct, a question from Green MP Caroline Lucas, elicited a response from Sunak that he will bring back the moratorium on fracking in the UK in line with the 2019 Conservative manifesto. With Rees-Mogg gone as business Minister, perhaps we can hope Sunak (and Shapps) stick to this commitment.