We were hopeful that the campaign asking Lambeth to follow the example of other boroughs like Brent and Waltham Forest and declare itself a "No Fracking Zone" would be cross party. We said as much publicly. We were also very careful not to criticise the council, or the Labour Party which run it, but to encourage them to make a positive response. However, today Lambeth Labour Party put out a press release attacking Streatham Green Party.
The background to the issue can be found here. In summary, a licence has been issued by the Government which would allow exploratory fracking in the South Streatham area. The Government is also consulting on another licence covering the rest of Streatham (the consultation ends on 28th March). You can see if your home is in the area by visiting this website and entering your postcode.
No site has been identified, and consent would be required from Lambeth Council for it to go ahead, and that is why we launched a petition asking the Council to take action. The Government only issues licences on the basis that exploration will go ahead. With Government offering money to local councils, and London Mayor Boris Johnson saying he wants fracking to take place under London, we think Lambeth should rule fracking out now as other local authorities in London have done (see Brent's reasoning here which involves a commitment to look at the powers it might have to stop fracking in the future).
The petition launched a week ago has already gained a lot of local support. Initially the signs were good that this would be a cross-party campaign. Streatham Labour party acknowledged that:
"There has rightly been growing concern amongst residents that fracking could come close to – or even effect – urban areas, including Streatham."
They rightly pointed out, as we did, that a number of criteria would need to be met for fracking to go ahead - including Local Authority consent. They also claimed that Lambeth Council had ruled it out. Good news, we thought. We had been straight with both the council and local people, and we hoped the Council had responded accordingly. We asked for the source of the information - a policy paper, council decision or document, anything in fact - but nothing was forthcoming.
It was at this point that it emerged that the Council had known for months about the licence. It also emerged that no discussion had ever taken place in committee, council, or anywhere else. There was no "policy" after all. This was a just a comment made to a journalist by a council member. There was no official statement or other documentation. Fracking hadn't actually ever formally been addressed.
Whether this was a source of embarrassment to Lambeth Labour Party isn't clear. Labour Councillors may have suddenly realised that they had disclosed commercially sensitive information to their Party (that Lambeth might try to ban fracking) before any discussion in council or committee had taken place, and before any official Council statement on the subject had been made. A political row would certainly distract from this. Or it may just be that Lambeth Labour were embarrassed by the fact that they had failed to tell local residents about something so important. We just don't know.
Whatever the reason, many questions still remain unanswered:
1. Can Lambeth Council provide any official documents at all to show that it has assessed the possibility of fracking and its potential impact in Lambeth?
2. Has Lambeth Council made any assessment of what sites might be considered for exploratory fracking?
3. Has Lambeth Council taken any legal advice about how it might block fracking?
4. Why won't Lambeth Council follow the example of other boroughs and declare Lambeth a "Frack-Free Zone" ?
5. Why didn't Lambeth Council inform local people about the licence? Why hasn't it also, even now, told local people about the consultation concerning the new licence covering the rest of Streatham?
6. Why hasn't Lambeth Council told local people that the Government only issues licences on the basis that exploration will take place?
7. Does Lambeth Labour party no longer consider that Streatham residents are right to be concerned about the impact of fracking in Streatham?
8. Has Lambeth Council had any contact with Northdown Energy who own the licence covering the South of Streatham, or Alamo Energy their partner?
One thing is absolutely clear. The response of both Lambeth Council and Lambeth Labour Party has been a shambles, and will do nothing to reassure people in Streatham (without publication of both a proper council policy and legal advice). Councillors should be straight, open and transparent with local people, stop playing politics with fracking and table a formal council motion to declare Lambeth a 'Frack Free Zone'.