The government has proposed certain areas for ‘fast track’ fracking licences, including parts of St Helens borough (please click on boxes 50 and 40 to can see the licences for areas in and around the St Helens North constituency.
A public consultation on these licences is underway and the deadline for responses is fast-approaching. Responses must be submitted by 11.45pm on Tuesday 29 September.
Not only is the deadline tight, but the consultation is highly restrictive. You cannot object to fracking per se (e.g. because of the effects on human health or the effects on climate change), but only to see whether a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) is required to be carried out under EU Law. The nearest protected area that could be affected by licences in blocks 40 and 50 is Martin Mere, near Burscough.
The online form asks only two substantive questions. Please find below the suggested answers to copy and paste into the questionnaire (feel free to amend as you see fit and if you are aware of any species in the north of the borough that are protected under European Law, please mention that in your answer to question 6).
Q5 Do you have any comments on the Habitats Regulations Assessment carried out for the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round?
There has been no communication about the licences and the consultation in the local press, so many people will be unaware of the proposals and how to engage in this consultation process.
In addition, the consultation is framed in such a way that is difficult for people without specialist ecological experience or knowledge to respond. For example, there is no easily accessible link to allow the average person to check if all SPAs and SACs are included in the government's consultation.
The consultation is also very limited in scope and refers only to areas that are protected under EU law. Why is the government not also conducting a Habitats Regulations Assessment of wildlife sites protected under UK law, such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Areas of Special Protection (AoSPs), Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCIs)?
6 Do you have any comments on the assessments carried out for individual licence blocks? (you may wish to comment on more than one block). Please provide the reference for the block you are commenting on (e.g. SD26a).
The licences that specifically effect St Helens area are SD40 and SD50.
SD50 could have adverse effects on the bird populations at Martin Mere (SPA) and Martin Mere (RAMSAR.) These birds need protection from the noise and light pollution that inevitably follows from fracking. Noise and light pollution can carry many miles from the fracking site, much more than the proposed one km buffer zone.
The EU protected species are still protected when they leave a protected site, so there needs to be adequate research into how far they are likely to travel before any buffer zone can be considered effective.
EU law takes a precautionary approach; if there are any doubts as to a proposed action adversely affecting a protected habitat or species then the action is considered unlawful.
Another consideration is the number of proposed licences and the close proximity of each area. This means that the light and noise pollution will be coming from a lot of areas around Martin Mere SPA and Martin Mere RAMSAR, so the light and noise pollution will therefore be of a greater intensity than if just one licenced area was proposed.
Under current EU Law this is grounds for refusal of these two licences.
For further information on the licensing consultation, please visit http://frackfreeryedale.org/pedlconsultation/
St Helens Green Party is offering to help St helens Council build a better business case for the proposed Carr Mill station and St Helens Central-Junction linkline rail projects - if it really wants to. The party believes that the two projects have been grossly undersold by the council and Merseytravel, and that urgent action is needed to save the schemes from the scrap heap.
St Helens Green Party is proposing turning the town green in a bid to attract more shoppers, visitors, entrepreneurs and investment.
St Helens Green Party's Francis Williams explains:
“We care about St Helens and lots of other people do too.
"St Helens Green Party wants a town centre that is attractive and vibrant, with a truly diverse mix of shops, bars and cafes – the very opposite of what we have now.
“We have to find ways to encourage genuinely local businesses that are in St Helens for the long haul, rather than here today/gone tomorrow chain stores that can usually be found on any high street in any other town anyway.
“Two thirds of the country’s half a million retail outlets are independent. Perhaps this is the way back for St Helens? It has to be worth a try. After all, what’s the alternative?”