SNP councillor hails “victory” for environmentalists

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 22:55 on 18 December 2014.
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Councillor Paddy Hogg. Picture: Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.
CUMBERNAULD Scottish Nationalist stalwart, Paddy Hogg has described the decision by Councillors from throughout North Lanarkshire to oppose fracking at a full council meeting this afternoon (18 December) as a “pleasant surprise”.

Talking to Cumbernauld Media, the SNP Councillor for Cumbernauld South said: “It is a pleasant surprise that councillors in NLC all voted not only to oppose unconventional gas extraction but also called for a moratorium on such developments. This result has to be hailed as a victory for the concerned environmentalists in the local HUGE group who bombarded councillors with emails demanding a moratorium since Friday last week. I personally asked the group to do this to whip up a storm of democratically led anti-fracking information to let councillors know this was a major topic that they had to take very seriously. It worked.”

Councillor Hogg, a well-known biographer of Scottish bard, Robert Burns, has earned a reputation locally for fighting against unconventional gas extraction – and, the method of hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking’ – particularly. 

The Councillor had lodged one of the two motions up for debate on hydraulic fracturing at today’s council meeting. Seconded by Councillor Baird, Mr Hogg’s motion calls for the council to “adopt a precautionary principle” towards fracking.

His full motion read: "In accord with the framework and principles of the Local Development Plan to protect public health and environmental safety, Council shall adopt a precautionary principle towards land designed by the Coal Authority on their website as 'High Risk Development Areas' and consider this land inappropriate for unconventional gas extraction (including hydraulic fracturing, known as 'fracking' or coal bed methane extraction) including any form of exploratory bore hole, due to the potential for subsidence or other environmental risks. Moreover, given the Airth Public Inquiry, called−in by the Scottish Government during 2014, Council shall also adopt the precautionary principle and accordingly calls for a moratorium to be declared until it is established beyond reasonable doubt that coal bed methane extraction and 'fracking' are deemed 'safe' by independent scientific experts."

At the meeting in Motherwell this afternoon (18 December), though, Councillors Baird and Hogg had their motions denied, under the six-month rule – meaning that SNP councillors lent their backing to a motion brought forward by Scottish Green Party Councillor, Frances McGlinchey and Cumbernauld Independent Councillors’ Alliance member, Alan O’Brien. 

Originally, the pair’s motion read: “This Council has grave concerns regarding unconventional gas extraction and to this end supports a moratorium on the development of this technology throughout North Lanarkshire”, before becoming: “We [North Lanarkshire Council] agree to the sentiment of the motion and a moratorium should be introduced. We [North Lanarkshire Council] call on the Scottish Government to do so immediately”, after an amendment by the majority Labour group.

Reacting to the amendment, Cllr Hogg said: “The somewhat disingenuous aspect of Labour's amendment is that it agreed with the sentiments of Cllr McGlinchey's motion but made a demand for a moratorium that the Scottish Government must implement 'immediately'. Seconded by Cllr Griffin who has a law degree, she cannot be ignorant of the fact that due legal process must be followed in the case of the called-in Airth Inquiry which means that a moratorium could be called based only upon the evidence given at the Public Inquiry and could not be declared immediately by the Scottish Government because NLC Labour demand a moratorium now. It’s a wee bit unworthy of a law graduate to second such an amendment when she knows the demand it makes is not legally possible. That's known as posturing or spin to hit at the Scottish government. Point scoring is nothing new.”

Councillor Hogg added: “However, it is great news Labour in NLC at least are now publicly anti-fracking even if some MP's are still on the fence or changing for their political survival. Their motion doesn't say this exactly but says they agree with the sentiment of the main motion which is anti-UGE.”

“It’s disappointing the Provost invoked the 6 month standing order rule to drop my motion from debate,” Councillor Hogg explained. “It was far more forensic in detail and NLC (if it was voted through) could have immediately prohibited UGE development on high risk development areas so designated by the Coal Board under local planning and environmental laws to protect the environment and health from possible land subsidence. So Labour side-stepped real progress they could have implemented locally to swipe at the SNP knowing full well the drivers behind UGE are the Tory leader and their paymaster Lord John Brown.

“The SNP motion added to the SNP party position of 'caution' by recalibrating this scientifically by acknowledging the growth of scientific evidence against fracking over the last 6 months that necessitates implementation of what is called the precautionary principle advocated by Profs Watterson and Smythe at the Airth Inquiry. From caution to legal precautionary principle is the common sense way forward to protect people and property in Scotland. The SNP motion showed support for a genuine call for a moratorium across Scotland not simply one in the NLC which NLC would not consider.

“Today's vote does show however that councillors are now more aware of UGE as a topic and know the will of local residents. There is still a great need to keep awareness levels high on this issue and SNP activists will keep leading this issue in the Cumbernauld area and take cognizance of the activists views in HUGE as the issue develops. This is not an issue that will go away. It has a movement of activists behind it buoyed by their experience in the Referendum campaign.”
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