Reflections on KM8 – the terrible resolve of the sleeping giant
For a few minutes yesterday evening I felt sad and ashamed to be a Yorkshireman.
North Yorkshire County Council had just let North Yorkshire down badly by approving an application by Third Energy to frack for shale gas at Kirby Misperton in the heart of rural North Yorkshire. This was in spite of
▪ an overwhelming number of objections (over 4,000 compared to 36 in support)
▪ powerful evidence of the dangers and disruption from fracking
▪ a rapidly growing trend in humanity and governments at all levels around the world to ban fracking
▪ a UK signature on the recent Paris climate agreement
Seven out of eleven councillors hid behind planning processes and procedures to nod through the government’s wishes when they should have stood up for North Yorkshire’s residents, businesses, landscape and environment. No wonder we all shouted ’Shame on you!’ when the decision was announced.
In the early hours of this morning I remembered watching the film Tora! Tora! Tora! and I realised that actually the Council and Third Energy had shot themselves in the foot.
The 1970 film is a dramatisation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. In the final scene, Admiral of the Japanese fleet Yamamoto stands on the bridge of his ship returning home after his successful mission. He isn’t smiling. A subordinate asks him if all is well. Yamamoto replies with these famous words:
‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve’.
How prophetic were those words (even with hindsight).
In submitting an application for what they perceived to be a low risk operation, something that is a hybrid between a full fracking well and a conventional well, Third Energy have unwittingly brought home to Yorkshire and England the real threat from fracking. Suddenly Yorkshire residents and business realise that they are now a fracking area and are afraid they will become outcasts and pariahs.
Frack Free Ryedale have already seen a surge in membership with nearly 200 joining the group overnight. The People’s Declaration, read out by Sue Gough after the decision, already has many signatures to its name. As the fallout from the decision widens more and more people will see, possibly for the first time, how their lives and lifestyles are threatened by this decision.
The sleeping giant has been truly pricked; the outlook for the councillors who voted in favour and for the fracking industry is not good.
So, on this morning after, we need to pick ourselves up, wipe away the tears, get cold and calculating and ask ourselves three questions:
▪ What action do we take now over KM8?
▪ Where did we go wrong (and sorry to be cold and calculating: we lost this battle and need to ask how we can do better next time)?
▪ What action do we take to energise and grow the ’sleeping giant’?
For me, a resident of Ryedale, these are very relevant questions. Just a mile South of my village lies a small wood, known unedifyingly as Scroggy Bottom. Third Energy has already been in discussion with the local landowner and screening opinions were submitted to North Yorkshire Planning Department (NY/2013/0249.SCR) in 2013. Its been dormant since then, whilst 3E concentrated on KM8. They will no doubt be scrupulous in their operation at KM8 and ensure absolutely nothing goes wrong in order to give them ammunition and authority to mount a full scale green field site frack at Scroggy Bottom in the next year or so. And God help us all when Scroggy Bottom becomes headline news!
So, here are my own thoughts on my three questions:
Q1 What action do we take now over KM8?
I am not an expert here, and wait to hear from groups such as FoE and Frack Free Ryedale for advice. However, in the short term we can:
▪ Sign the People’s Declaration
▪ Donate to Frack Free Ryedale – they need money to continue the fight
▪ Spread the word through social media and face to face gatherings
▪ Move accounts from Barclays (although I understand that Barclays are trying to divest themselves of 3E and so this may not do much good)
▪ Encourage FoE to explore the alleged mishandling of the process and seek an injunction if appropriate
▪ Encourage and support Frack Free Ryedale to develop and ongoing campaign (which may include an element of civil disobedience) and advise us what we must do – together and co-ordinated
▪ Write a handwritten ‘shame on you’ letter to the Councillors who voted for the applications
▪ Write a handwritten ‘thank you’ letter to those councillors who voted against
▪ Write to the Prime Minister and Chancellor explaining why you will never vote for them
Q2 Where did we go wrong?
Again, I am no expert here. However, I was struck by the difference between the way the two sides presented their cases at Northallerton.
3E played the game. They read the rule book, worked out what they needed to do, accepted and lived with the process, used the planning process to their advantage, and won (and as I have already mentioned, handed the Committee a process to hide behind in their role as stooges for the Government).
When they first started to speak I was surprised that 3E came across as boring, not very articulate, a bit stuttering, slightly amateurish. Even Rasik Valand, who comes across as slick and articulate when interviewed on TV, did not present well in the council chamber.
It took me a while to realise that this was all show and that they had probably been trained to present this way. They came across, deliberately, as boring, left brain, technical – and very focused.
In this game numbers are important; so is quality. I wonder if having nearly 70 speakers against was wise, especially compared to the five focused presentations from 3E. Frack Free Ryedale made a heroic attempt to counter 3E in their submission. However, their attempts were diluted especially when, as the Planning Officer pointed out, many objections (both written and from the floor) talked about fracking in general and didn’t address the specifics of KM8.
Even worse was to have objectors at odds with each other. At one point one speaker urged the committee to reject and give the responsibility to Central Government whilst another urged the Committee to reject Central Government policy and make the decision themselves. It does not help the cause.
I know you cannot stop people objecting. You can ask them to register to speak and ‘donate’ their three minutes to another party and I wonder if next time, as a strategy, we should pursue this and field a handful of experts to to go through the Planning Officer’s recommendations with a fine tooth comb and launch a highly focused, cold-blooded attack on the recommendations. In other words, play the game like the applicant.
I think it was Cllr John Blackie who, speaking after the meeting, said that the Committee had relied too much on the Planning Officer’s report which had not given sufficient weight to the objections. A more focussed approach could have ensured the important objections were heard.
Q3 What action do we take to energise and grow the ’sleeping giant’?
Successful businesses no longer produce and sell goods and services. They listen to and tell stories, build communities, interact with them and solve their problems. They work with the three ‘C’s – contacts, community and content to build successful businesses. We can do the same and add two more ‘C’s – councillors and celebrity.
▪ Contacts: I was struck by how few people even knew what was going on when I canvassed my Village, let alone knew of the implications. We should really push to get more people aware and join groups such as Frack Free Ryedale; social media is a gift here
▪ Community: Communities (or Tribes as Seth Godin calls them) are powerful. If nothing else, Northallerton massively strengthened the community. It was great to meet and talk to people from all walks of life and make common cause with them. It was quite moving to see familiar faces on the news items later yesterday night. We are a community with a common cause. We are also a lot of little communities doing out own thing. I feel there is a strong case for an umbrella organisation to support local groups and add weight to the frack free cause
▪ Content (or communication): many in Yorkshire remain unaware and ignorant in spite of valiant efforts to develop awareness. We need people to get curious, even though it makes people feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Common barriers to curiosity are the aptly named ‘dry well’ and’ ‘information gap’. In practice, people have to have some level of knowledge or awareness before they can get curious. Content needs to be first simple and curiosity-pricking before becoming detailed and technical
▪ Counsellors: I agree with one post-vote speaker who talked about the need to get political. Unfortunately politics is a messy, professional, resource hungry game that needs to be co-ordinated at least at regional level. Thats a big job, though not impossible
▪ Celebrity: this works because we have all endorsed celebrities, so they bring the endorsements of thousands, even millions, to the table when they speak for us. This can have powerful results. Look at Joanna Lumley and the Gurkhas. Identifying, cultivating and directing celebrities is something we ought to do.
None of this happens without resources and fundraising needs to be seen as an essential activity in its own right, handled by a professional or semi-professional fundraiser. I for one will donate to Frack Free Ryedale today and would encourage others to do likewise.
Two words to avoid
But: if you find yourself speaking or writing the word ‘but’, re work your thoughts to drop ‘but’ and replace with ‘and’. Its amazingly powerful.
Anti: We are voting for a frack free world, which sounds positive; however, the phrase ‘anti-fracking’ is still commonly used, especially by the press and sound negative. Fighting for Freedom from Fracking sounds very positive and includes the emotive ‘freedom’ word