Fiddler must resign the Council or be pushed.
Last week it emerged at a Fylde Borough Council meeting that a number of councillors had either accepted money from Cuadrilla or its agents or had participated in Cuadrilla's attempts to bribe the local community with financial sweeteners preparing the way for their planning applications. Chief among those who admitted taking money from Cuadrilla, for use of his land, was a senior councillor, the portfolio holder of planning, whose role is vital in all planning matters. He compounded his tardy declaration of interest by making statements in public which are so unbelieveable they compound his error so seriously as to demand his resignation.
On BBC "North West Tonight" 8/8/2014 Councillor Fiddler was interviewed. He confirmed he had taken money for allowing seismic monitoring on his land. He claims, however, that he had no idea it was related to Cuadrilla or to fracking. This is impossible to believe.
The BBC announcer suggested, clearly from information supplied for the programme, that it was after the seismic monitoring it was realised this was linked to Cuadrilla, who were planning to carry out fracking. This timeline does not fit the facts.
The seismic testing was carried out in spring to summer 2012. Back in April and May 2011 the Fylde had experienced two earthquakes which had been linked to Cuadrilla’s fracturing of the well PH1 at Preese Hall. The events, and the resulting publicity, made national as well as local headlines. It was very clear to the public that later seismic monitoring was linked to the earthquakes, that the earthquakes were linked to Cuadrilla, and that the government had effectively put a moratorium on fracking. This was not lifted until December 2012, when the final DECC report on Cuadrilla’s own funded study into the links between its activity and the April and May 2011 seismic events.
In the material shown by the BBC councillor Fiddler said, referring to the time he was paid for seismic testing,
“…at that time Cuadrilla had never been heard of. Fracking hadn't been referred to, it was simply a scientific study and therefore why should one make any relationship to it.”
Firstly it is simply not credible that Councillor Fiddler, who held the Planning portfolio at Fylde Borough Council, had not heard of Cuadrilla. They had been granted permission in 2010 for the Preese Hall and other wells. FBC was a statutory consultant in the planning process. As planning portfolio councillor Fiddler would have been well aware of the company. After the two main earthquakes which halted fracking at Preese Hall the whole issue became widely publicised. Cuadrilla became a nationally-recognised name.
As an example of the publicity generated, the Guardian produced a report on the 1st June 2011 headlined
”Blackpool earthquake tremors may have been caused by gas drilling”
A further report on the same day in the Indpendent implied that the link between fracking and the tremors was suspected even after the April 1st earthquake, and raised the importance of the issue nationally for energy policy
”Small earthquake in Blackpool, major shock for UK's energy policy - Controversial shale gas drilling halted pending investigation into possible connection with tremors”
The name Cuadrilla was public knowledge. The link (not proven at that time) between the earthquakes and the company’s fracking activities had been made.
Secondly, therefore, councillor Fiddler’s claim not to have made any link between later seismic testing and Cuadrilla and fracking is also incredible.
In August 2011 two men scaled half way up Blackpool Tower to erect banners protesting against fracking. In November a further protest was mounted against Cuadrilla, this time at the rig site at Banks, just over the Ribble. Is councillor Fiddler really expecting us believe he knew nothing of Cuadrilla and fracking at that time?
The Banks protest was timed to coincide with the release of Cuadrilla’s own commissioned study This November 2011 report clearly established the fracking/earthquake link. This was widely reported, including by the BBC
”Fracking tests near Blackpool 'likely cause' of tremors - It is "highly probable" that shale gas test drilling triggered earth tremors in Lancashire, a study has found.”
The final official confirmation and acceptance of the earthquake link and Cuadrilla came in April 2012 (the government’s Green/Styles/Baptie report).
However, the message was clear. And the seismic survey was commissioned by Cuadrilla in November 2011. On the 16th November they notified the County Council (as Minerals and Waste Planning Authority) that they intended to carry out a feasibility for a survey over 100 sq km. Cuadrilla’s letter confirms that copies had been sent to all relevant parish and - significantly - borough councils.
Fylde Borough Council therefore had full knowledge of the seismic survey, and who had commissioned it. It beggars belief that the Planning Portfolio holder would not have been aware of this.
The seismic survey was carried out in June 2012. Numerous complaints were made by the public both to the Borough Council and to the local MP, who was finally forced to step in to demand action from Cuadrilla.
Councillor Fiddler attempts to say he did not make a link at the time between the seismic testing he was paid for and fracking. There is ample evidence to suggest that he knew full well at the time he took the £150. It is certain he should have known by the time the seismic testing took place, but this is not relevant as to whether Councillor Fiddler committed a breach of councillor conduct. This relates to the time he actually attended meetings and took part in discussion, or as portfolio holder took any decisions regarding fracking and Cuadrilla, without declaring his interest, not to the time that interest had occurred. He was finally pressed into declaring an interest at the council meeting of Monday 24th July 2014.
At that meeting he declared his interest when a fracking issue - a call for a moratorium - came up on the agenda. He regarded the payment made to him as a prejudicial interest and he withdrew from the meeting.
It is necessary, therefore, to examine his record over the last two or three years. If he now felt it necessary to declare an interest and withdraw from discussion then clearly he should have similarly declared an interest and withdrawn from any fracking related discussion or decision. A failure to have done so would be a clear breach of councillor conduct and possibly a legal offence.
In any case, councillor Fiddler has now gone on record as (in my view) lying about the matter. If he was not lying, which I find hard to credit, he has been incredibly incompetent as a planning portfolio holder. In any event, he has brought himself, his office, his party and his council into disrepute. He must resign from the council.