Thursday 20 October was a landmark day in the Vale of Glamorgan and one that will have a knock-on effect around the country and hopefully beyond. It was a day where community power helped to bring about a unanimous decision by the local county council to deny Coastal Oil & Gas the right to test for shale gas at an industrial estate on the outskirts of the village of Llandow.
A few months prior to this, in February 2011, all that stood between the multi-billion dollar highly environmentally damaging fracking industry and a test drill being carried out in the Vale was one individual. Louise Evans runs a nearby caravan park and when she found out what was being planned she started researching the fracking process and raising awareness. Louise set up a web site and the 'Vale Says No' campaign was born.
The local Transition towns, Transition Cowbridge and Transition Llantwit, have been active for the past three years. From the work already done we knew that there was a part of the community that did not need any convincing that something that had the potential to cause significant environmental damage, as well as keeping the focus on an unsustainable finite energy source, should be halted. Both Transition groups donned their awareness raising hats to focuses their energies on supporting the Vale Says No campaign.
The Vale Says No set up several public meetings to bring the issue of fracking and its consequences to the public's attention. Both Transition groups used their existing networks to rally as many supporters as possible. This not only helped to generate a significant number of letters of objection, it was during one of these meetings that Coastal Oil & Gas was made aware that they had failed to consider a house only 200m away from the possible drilling site in their application. This resulted in them withdrawing their application and bought the campaign some much needed time to carry out research into the company and gather further evidence.
As soon as Coastal Oil & Gas re-applied for planning everyone was quick off the mark and Transition Cowbridge hosted a public meeting to a full house in the Town Hall. Word was spread via the website, the local press and by hand delivering invitations to local councillors, Welsh Assembly members and community organisations. A large number of the people attending had not heard of fracking and alarm bells started ringing. This not only resulted in creating greater general awareness but it also helped to bring some key community members together who would go on to directly support the campaign. In addition to this Transition Llantwit hosted a viewing of the feature length documentary Gasland which highlighted to all the significant impacts that could result if fracking was allowed to take place.
Pressure was maintained by Transition and the campaign called for a 'peaceful protest' to take place outside Cowbridge Town Hall on the day that the Council were holding a roadshow inside. Students from a local College piled in with banners and some well rehearsed chanting. The protest headed up the High Street on a day when the town was full of Saturday shoppers. A Dogs Trust charity shop was in the middle of a celebrity opening. John Barrowan is a patron and three hundred people had turned up. They all got the benefit of the marching protesters. More awareness raised!
The week of the planning decision arrived and due to the significant awareness raised the council felt it important to hold a scrutiny meeting. This gave both sides a chance to offer their reasoning for and against and resulted in some crucial questions being raised that defiantly helped to added weight to the councils final decision. The day of the planning decision arrived and following a site visit by the councillors and a screening of Gaslands, the Planning Committee sat. They had been met on their way into the building by another lively but peaceful protest. BBC and ITV were filming and interviews were given to BBC radio, national and local.
Despite the electric atmosphere in the room there was a definite sense that the there was nothing else that could be done. With great relief one by one the councillors made their cases for overturning the application and in most cases a focused and passionate speech was given as to why neither test drilling or fracking should be allowed to go ahead. The decision was rubberstamped by the councils concerns over a letter sent by Welsh Water which had been voiced at the earlier Scrutiny meeting. If groundwater became polluted by drilling fluid they could not guarantee that the situation could be 'remediated'. “Once polluted, we would be stuck with it”.
The positive impact of the Transition movement
By supporting the Vale Says No campaign, Transiton not only helped to quickly spread the issue to a much wider audience but also broaden the argument to one that incorporated the bigger picture of long term community happiness and resilience. And it was this level-headed approach that gave the campaign a real sense of credibility and one that helped convince the local planning committee to vote unanimously against the application.
So from a starting point of just one person it had very quickly become a community supported campaign that has succeeded in putting a very big spoke in the works for an industry blindly focused on finite energy extraction at any cost.
So where do we go from here?
Fracking is definitely not an issue just reserved for the Vale and as has been show in Blackpool this processes can happen all too fast and undetected if communities are not alert. And this is where Transition Towns all around the globe can play there part in not just being vigilant to fracking but continuing to do the great work they do at providing communities with a positive vision of life without the need for such unconscious acts.