As you read this, I’m stood outside Westminster Palace in London – the home of Parliament and the birthplace of democracy in the UK. In the early hours of this morning, I arrived with a team of Greenpeace volunteers. And as the sun slowly appeared on this grey February day, we turned a corner of Parliament Square into a small but life-like industrial site.
We’re planning to stay here all day in protest at government plans to force fracking on communities across the country. Today we want to show David Cameron’s government – this is what it feels like to have the shale gas industry pushed on you against your own will.
I’ve travelled 300 miles to be here from Blackpool – a town that, even after having lived in Hong Kong, Australia, and a host of other places in between, I am proud to now call my home.
If you’ve had the chance to visit Blackpool before, you’ll know that a 158 metre tall tower stretches high into the skyline. Take a ride to the top of it and on a clear day and you’ll be guaranteed breath-taking views over Blackpool’s beach. Turn around to face the other direction and you’ll get a glimpse of the stunning Forest of Bowland too.
But soon there could be a deeply unwelcome sight sprawling out across the same view.
That’s because Lancashire has been opened up to the shale gas industry. And despite huge local opposition, the fracking firm Cuadrilla is determined to set up its rigs and drill.
Together with other concerned residents, I’ve all given the past four years of my life to resisting this destructive industry. We’ve spent evenings and weekends travelling to Yorkshire, Sussex and so many places in between, meeting with others who are equally concerned about the threat the industry poses to our health and to the environment.
Time and time again it’s been a familiar story: grandparents concerned about the risks their children’s children will face if we keep burning fossil fuels; mothers and fathers who are worried about how turning their town into an industrial zone will impact their families.
In Lancashire, we breathed a sigh of relief last year when – after so many local people spoke out against the fracking industry – our local council voted against Cuadrilla’s plan to drill.
But this victory was short lived. Because just a few months later it was revealed that Greg Clark, the government’s so-called ‘minister for communities’, can now overrule local councils, paving the way for Cuadrilla and its rigs.
Since then we’ve not be able to stop asking ourselves: how can our government on one hand claim to champion local democracy, yet on the other render our councils powerless to stop fracking?
The fracking rig we’ve built outside of Westminster today isn’t real. By the end of the day our protest will be over and our point will have been made. But in Lancashire, and in so many other towns, the threat remains a reality we’re forced to live with every single day.
I know that while I’m here in London, a crowd of wonderful, determined residents and campaigners are gathered in Blackpool too. These people, many of whom I feel honoured to call my friends, will be bearing witness to the start of Cuadrilla’s appeal. They’ll be protesting for the same reason that I am – because surely this is not a democracy when the government is making towns like mine powerless to oppose fracking.
What we want is clean, safe energy for us, for our children, and for generations to come. We want our voices to be heard and for our right to refuse the fossil fuel industry to be respected.
Is that really too much to ask?