#AceUKNews says hundreds of protesters marched through Manchester, England on Sunday in what is believed to be one of the largest anti-fracking rallies to take place in the UK.
A recent survey carried out by the Manchester Evening News found that 73 percent of Greater Manchester residents are opposed to the controversial gas extraction technique – so on Sunday at noon, up to 1,000 demonstrators gathered in down-town to march from Piccadilly Gardens to Cathedral Gardens.
Many of the speakers and demonstrators included members of the long-standing Barton Moss protest camp in neighbouring Irlam, just south of Manchester.
There, energy firm IGas is carrying out test drilling to explore potential shale gas reserves beneath the green belt site at Barton Moss.
Football related placard at the anti-fracking rally in Piccadilly #mufc#mcfcpic.twitter.com/umnvikNMT9
— Chris Slater (@chrisslaterMEN) March 9, 2014
The purpose of the march in Manchester was to send a clear message to the government and energy companies that the vast majority of Britons oppose fracking,
Martin Porter, a spokesman for the Barton Moss camp and a member of Frack Free Greater Manchester, told the Manchester Evening News.
“The purpose of the day is to send a message out that we don’t want fracking in Manchester or anywhere else. At the moment, Barton Moss is at the centre of attention across the country but before long two thirds of people in England and Wales might find a #Fracking rig on their doorstep,” Porter said.
The government sources say they are mulling over these amendments to the law to make it easier for companies to explore and extract shale gas, amid worries that landowners and other parties could hold up energy companies in costly and lengthy court proceedings, the Telegraph reports.
The plans are expected to be published in the coming months, and are likely to be the most controversial yet in Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to push through #fracking regardless of the environmental cost.
Under the current laws, companies need permission from all the landowners beneath whose land they drill. As shale gas exploration often involves drilling down vertically and out horizontally for more than a mile, this can mean that several landowners are involved.
If permission is not given, then the energy company is committing trespass and the company would have to take the landowner to court, which would then rule if they should be awarded drilling rights and how much compensation should be paid to the landowner.
While compensation is often only a minimal amount, less than £100, companies fear that court proceedings could be costly and drawn out by years of appeals. They have been lobbying the government to change the law.
Unsurprisingly, given how close the government and the energy companies are on shale gas, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has confirmed they are looking at whether the current laws are “fit for purpose.”
Demonstrators hold placards in front of a police cordon outside the entrance to the IGas Energy exploratory gas drilling site at Barton Moss near Manchester in northern England January 13, 2014. (Reuters / Phil Noble)
Greenpeace has tried to use the existing law to encourage thousands of landowners in areas known to be rich in shale gas to decline their permission for fracking to take place. Landowners could also take out injunctions, which would present a further barrier to companies.
One option the government could take is to introduce a compulsory purchase regime, similar to what is already in place for companies needing to lay pipelines underground.
“All options are on the table. It would be difficult to implement a regime that removed any kind of compensation. You could change the rules so you have a de facto right, but then you have to pay. The compensation could be less than £100,” a Whitehall source said.
Even if the trespass law was changed, companies would still need to negotiate access rights for the drilling site, planning permission from the local council, and other permissions from the government and environmental regulators.
“Shale gas and oil operations that involve fracking in wells drilled over a mile down are highly unlikely to have any discernible impacts closer to the surface,” said a spokesman for the DECC.
But environmental groups, as well as many residents in areas which have been earmarked for fracking disagree. They argue that the health and environmental effects are very damaging and include earth tremors, water pollution and human exposure to highly toxic chemicals used in the process.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, sand and chemicals down a well at high pressure to fracture rocks and then extract the gas trapped within them.It has been linked to health and environmental damage in some US states where it is extensive.
A sign stands outside a protest camp at the entrance to the IGas Energy exploratory gas drilling site at Barton Moss near Manchester in northern England January 13, 2014.(Reuters / Phil Noble)
Ian Crane, a former oil executive, who is now a campaigner against fracking, explained to RT the extreme dangers that shale gas exploration poses to a densely populated country like the UK.
“We’ve seen the effects in places like Colorado and southern Queensland in Australia. When the population density of the UK is 20 times that of Colorado and 100 times that of Queensland, I would simply implore people to do a bit of research and look at the damage and the contamination that has been wreaked in these locations around the world,” he said.
He also pointed out that of the four wells drilled in the UK, seismic events have occurred at two of them, and there is a very real chance that people in areas where fracking is taking place will no longer have access to safe and clean water.
- Fracking could be allowed under homes without owners’ permission(telegraph.co.uk)
- UK Fracking could be allowed under people’s homes without their consent(EndtheLie.com)
- UK Fracking could be allowed under people’s homes without their consent(therebel.org)
Objection 1: That rail demand won’t grow fast enough and the trains will be empty.
George’s piece starts out with an admission that total transport demand has fallen in recent years, and argues this is due to increasing petrol prices and road congestion. He makes the strong point that rail demand has increased strongly over the past 15 years, then, like the government, unthinkingly projects that forward. However, nothing goes on forever, and there is emerging evidence that long distance rail demand may be flattening out.
A number of key indicators suggest this:
Recent ORR data shows flat long distance demand for over a year, although London and South East demand is still growing strongly;
Virgin’s passenger miles showed rapid growth after completion of the upgrade, but growth has now virtually ceased (Figure 1).
This is similar to the experience on the West Coast at the time of electrification in the 1960s;
So we need to understand what’s really happening before committing £50bn of our money to HS2.
There are some obvious factors which have driven long distance rail demand. Increasing company car taxation has dramatically reduced company car use, and there has been significant modal shift from air to rail between Manchester and London following the West Coast Main Line upgrade – but these are one-off changes, and aren’t the basis for assuming perpetual, compound growth. Perhaps the most important factor has been service improvements on all the main InterCity routes – frequencies from London to Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, and Cardiff have doubled; Manchester has improved from one train an hour to three, Birmingham from two to three; and journey times have been cut, particularly on the West Coast Main Line, and the Cross Country network has improved dramatically. It would be very surprising if passenger volumes hadn’t grown, but I suspect that much of this is a one-off effect, with rail now the dominant mode for middle and long distance demand to central London, so further growth to London is dependent on structural growth in the market, not increased modal share. East Coast and Eurostar are already demonstrating this; the Eureka timetable on East Coast, with more trains and some faster journey times, has produced little or no additional revenue – East Coast passenger miles grew by only 0.5% in 2012/13, and Eurostar is increasingly looking to markets beyond Paris and Brussels, where it already has something like an 80% market share, and low growth.
Lastly, there is at least anecdotal evidence that business travel is declining as smart technology increasingly substitutes for face to face meetings. I travel to Manchester several times a year, and my own counts, together with the official numbers for peak trains to and from Euston, suggest a gradual reduction in business travel (Figure 2). Yet the claimed economic benefits for HS2 relate overwhelmingly to business travel.
In summary, there is clear evidence that the boom times may well be coming to an end for InterCity rail travel. To quote John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
Objection 2: That we don’t need HS2’s capacity because Virgin WCML trains are running with plenty empty seats in the peak.
George acknowledges that Virgin’s current load factors are low, but doesn’t recognise that most services could be lengthened to 12 cars (three first, nine standard) giving a total of 693 seats, more than three times the average peak loading of 229, without the need to run more trains. Yet he asserts that “It is extremely unlikely that the spare capacity, plus any extra which can be added, would not be fully used up by growth well before the Y of HS2 is finished” – back to endless growth. In reality, long distance services to Waterloo, Liverpool Street and Victoria are full now (Figure 3), with no prospect of significant extra capacity, and London and South East volumes are still growing. Rationally, how can HS2 be a priority?
Objection 3: That the environmental damage to the Chilterns and the disruption to residents around Euston are so bad that we should abandon this project.
There is clearly a balance to be struck between environmental impact and the wider good. But if the case for HS2 is fundamentally weak, then the impact on Camden, the Chilterns and every affected location all the way along the route to Church Fenton south of York is unforgiveable and unacceptable.
Objection 4: HS2 won’t release much useful rail service capacity around Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds.
George claims this is a “bad argument – not true” but writes that he will return to this.
It’s actually a compelling argument. Take Leeds as an example: there are eight main rail corridors into the city, and HS2 only relieves one of them, the route from Doncaster via Wakefield. In the morning peak, East Coast operate just two trains arriving in Leeds before 0900, both of which are well loaded with commuters from Doncaster and Wakefield. So the trains would need to run anyway, at least from Doncaster, and the total of “extra capacity” released by HS2 equates to the number of passengers on these trains from London who would transfer to HS2; the trains leave Kings Cross at 0550 and 0630, so it won’t be a great number. The impacts in Birmingham and Manchester are similar – early morning Virgin services from Euston are packed with commuters from Coventry to Birmingham.
Objection 5: That HS2 won’t benefit the North.
George dismisses the comparison with the lack of economic impact of HS1 domestic services on Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Olympian fashion: “you should not have expected HS1 to have helped very much” and then goes on to develop a novel argument that HS2 is different from other European high speed lines because the population served is so much greater. This is simply a scale effect: if high speed rail has favoured Madrid rather than Seville, than we can expect it to favour London rather than Manchester.
I don’t claim to be an expert in spatial economics, but those who are – academics such as Henry Overman and John Tomaney – appear very sceptical about the benefits to the Midlands and the North and the cost effectiveness of HS2 as a means of reducing the North-South divide. George seeks to counter their views by inventing his own back-of-an-envelope economic theory.
Objection 6: That there are better ways to improve transport in the North than HS2.
There are certainly better, cheaper and more cost effective ways to improve public transport in the Midlands and the North, and all the benefits, both in terms of the construction work and the improvements delivered, would be wholly contained in the regions, not siphoned away to the overheated and richer London and the South East.
Objection 7: The Business Case is weak.
George writes: “You can chip away at the edges if you want, but a benefit cost ratio of 2.3 … for a large project is good.” It isn’t a matter of “chipping away at the edges”; the business case is deeply flawed, and still critically dependent on discredited values of time for business passengers, even though this has been cleverly disguised in its latest formulation. There are also a number of other significant errors and heroic assumptions, and if the business case is corrected for these, it would struggle to get a benefit cost ratio above 1.0.
HS2 is not value for money.
Objection 8: That, in the words of the HS2 Action Alliance, there is a “desperate attempt by the government to spin the report by KPMG which claimed HS2 would generate £15bn a year of wider economic benefits. Its conclusions were widely mocked by academics and commentators as lacking credibility with it being pointed out that if the report’s figures were correct there would be £1,000 worth of benefit to the economy for every extra journey created by HS2.”
George simply asserts that HS2 Action Alliance is “talking tosh”. But the £15bn a year figure is based on an assumption – implicitly acknowledged in small print in the KPMG report – that “connectivity”, as measured by a model of the rail services assumed in the HS2 business case, is the only driver of economic performance; not the availability and skill of the labour force, nor connectivity by road, despite the fact that 90% of journeys are made by road.
The KPMG report was considered in some detail by the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on November 5 last year. It’s pretty clear from the evidence of professors Graham and Overman that the KPMG work is fundamentally flawed, the benefits are massively overstated, and are double counted with the wider economic benefits already factored into the business case.
The big picture on investment
George writes: “HS2 is the latest in a line of major – and essential – transport projects”, but signally fails to demonstrate that it is either essential or a priority. Investment in infrastructure projects is undoubtedly critically important for the future economic prosperity of Britain, but the chosen projects need to be rigorously assessed and prioritised. This has not applied to HS2, which from Day 1 has been a solution in search of a problem.
About the author:
Chris Stokes is a partner at First Class Partnerships, and previously advised local authorities opposed to the HS2 project
- HS2 project essential to UK, say MPs(bbc.co.uk)
- HS2: ‘Misleading’ letters told homeowners their properties could be destroyed(telegraph.co.uk)
- HS2 planning: ‘How on earth is the public meant to make sense of this?’(theguardian.com)
- Officials in charge of HS2 have already spent £300m(telegraph.co.uk)
- HS2 opponents fast tracked to Parliament to make their case(coventrytelegraph.net)
- No HS2 without cross-party support(telegraph.co.uk)
When you read articles like this one you think you must be reading a story from the third world, maybe Bangladesh or similar! But NO this is about homeless men and women living close to Stockport, Greater Manchester, that’s right, here in the UK!
Yesterday l heard about Ipsos awards a 15% pay rise to people on salaries of £66,000 or more, as they cannot live on this amount!
Trying living on the streets of Greater Manchester for a while and see how that feels!
But of course we have a government and a Chancellor who says we are in in this together, well these two small comparisons, show that we are not and it is a lie! Of course well is it not this government that coined the word #austerity, well let them have their cake and eat it, and may it taste foul in their mouths, as the come to terms with what other people suffer!
Oh l know some that will read this post and this excellent article and say we cannot change these people they are oblivious to other peoples pain, but l say this that one man started a revolution and his name was Jesus and as the story goes he will return!
Or maybe just maybe he is watching all this and already preparing for his “Second Coming” when these people will be judged that judged others wanting!
The cost of just hiring a deputy to assist the GM’s Police Chief during these times of #austerity
- Greater Manchester’s elected police chief Tony Lloyd WILL hire a deputy at £55k a year (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)