"Your rights were taken away, you weren't allowed to speak, it was a case of just sitting there for five minutes. There was no engagement with the Mayor or anyone, it was ridiculous." Kevin, Irlam
Around fifty anti-fracking campaigners protested outside Salford Civic Centre this morning, surrounded by Salford Council's over-indulgent security measures.
Police kept a watchful eye from inside and outside the building as mothers holding babies and pensioners sang anti-fracking songs, while a memo had gone around to all staff telling them that `additional security will be in place' and asking them to `remain vigilant at this time'…
When the Council Cabinet meeting got underway at 10am, less than half the campaigners who had stood outside the Civic Centre for almost an hour were allowed in, the Salford Mayor, Ian Stewart, citing `health and safety reasons'.
Campaigners had hoped that the Council would be forced, at last, to hold an open discussion on fracking, triggered by over three thousand people signing a petition opposing the controversial shale gas extraction process. Instead, what they got was yet more silence.
Ali Abbas, on behalf of Manchester Friends of the Earth, which had launched the petition, was allowed to address councillors for five minutes - but Stewart made it clear before the meeting started that "no member of the public will be allowed to speak, apart from the petitioner".
Ali made a passionate speech, challenging claims made by the fracking industry that shale gas would bring down prices, create jobs, tackle climate change and help national security.
He added that IGas – the company doing the exploratory drilling at Barton Moss - had originally explicitly stated that it was looking for coal bed methane gas when its intention, now admitted, was to look for shale gas…
"If you can't trust IGas in the exploratory phase then how can you trust them in the future?" he asked, calling on Salford Council to pass a motion against shale gas exploration.
Ali handed over the petition to Assistant Mayor for Planning, Derek Antrobus, and then Ian Stewart closed that section of the meeting.
`Aren't you going to respond?' shouted someone from the public seating… "We are governed by the formal rules of the Council – there will be no debate" said Stewart "We will be called to make a decision and would exclude ourselves from being involved". He then asked people to leave, much to the fury of those present.
"They're useless. Democracy? They don't know the meaning of the word" said Jean Caruthers from Irlam.
"At least fifty of us have come down today to hear the Council debate fracking, hear their answers and hear where they are up to with it…because since Barton Moss started not one of Salford councillor has been down there or spoken out" said Darren Nesbitt "Instead, we've heard a statement being read out and then asked to leave with no discussion whatsoever.
"How is the public being involved?" he asked "The Mayor said that the Council is governed by its rules. No! The Council should be governed by the people."
And Kevin Done from Irlam added "It was pointless coming down, your rights were taken away, you weren't allowed to speak, it was a case of just sitting there for five minutes. There was no engagement with the Mayor or anyone, it was ridiculous."
Steph, from Ordsall, helped to get people to sign the petition, spending many hours in the street collecting signatures…
"All the time and effort we went to, explaining to people what fracking is all about, and now it's just been chucked in the recycle bin" she fumed "It's an absolute joke. I'm furious with this Council. If this is democracy I don't want it. I don't think it is democracy, it's their version of democracy, and I just want them out. Ian Stewart is a joke, a jellyfish, he's got no backbone."
Others were convinced that the Mayor and his Assistant Mayors were using procedures to avoid discussing the fracking issue…
"It's using procedural technicalities to avoid debate just before an election" said Martin Burke, a Green Party election candidate "Not all members of the Labour party are subject to the legal constraints of Labour councillors who might sit on the planning committee. Someone from that party could engage in the debate but they are avoiding it because it would be very unpopular just before the election."
And Colin Gong, from the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp added… "We need to check that they are following due process because I was under the very clear understanding that we would get to hear an hour long debate by the Council on fracking. Instead we got a pre-prepared statement from our side and zero, silence from the Council…"
Ali Abbas, who handed over the petition, was equally seething…
"It was really important that we got a chance to address councillors…what was disappointing was that we didn't get a chance to have a debate on the issue and that's got to happen" he said "People expect councillors to come out and say very clearly where they stand on fracking. They have the power to put in place a motion which presumes against development of shale gas extraction in the Barton Moss area and in Salford as a whole. So, from that point of view this is the start of the process.
"I get the feeling that they are hiding behind processes" he concluded "It's all very well having processes like that, but what you want is a forum for debate. We need to have a forum, have that debate and come up with solutions that are right for Salford."
This afternoon, a press release from Manchester Friends of the Earth, included a statement from actress and Salford resident Maxine Peake calling for Salford Council to get off its fracking knees…
"It is of utmost importance that we prevent fracking from becoming a reality in this country" she said "We must stop the Goverment's bribing of local authorities into participating in this disastrous exercise. No to Fracking! Stand up Salford before it's too late…"
* See also previous Salford Star articles…
Salford people take on councillors over Barton Moss - click here
Photos by Steven Speed