Falkirk: Communities gather to resist UOG development
In 2012 a planning application was made near Falkirk in Scotland by Dart Energy (now owned by multinational chemicals company INEOS) to develop the UK’s first commercial UOG facilities. To put this application in context, there are typically four stages to UOG commercial development: exploratory, appraisal, production, and decommissioning. Nearly all the UOG development in England is currently at the exploratory and appraisal stages, but by 2012 Dart Energy had already reached the production stage.
In response, local residents set up the Concerned Communities of Falkirk group (CCOF). I was put in touch with one of the founders and helped to host a series of meetings and workshops to allow residents to explore questions such as, “What do you want for your grandchildren?”, “What made you come to live in Falkirk?” Having worked as a lawyer in London, I felt there was a need for a planning law narrative that stepped out of the oppositional “communities against”, towards one which asked “What are we for? What do we love and want to protect?”
We came to realise that behind nearly every resident’s remark was an unspoken desire to have a sense of ownership and control over their lived experience. This insight became the ground for a legally arguable objection to Dart Energy’s planning application: that its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was inadequate since it did not assess the impact of the UOG project on the community’s lived experience – an element we described as their ‘cultural heritage’. Falkirk’s Community Charter was created to define both the intangible and tangible assets that shape such experience.
Walking the Talk: A public inquiry and moratorium
By the time of a public inquiry in April 2014, the Community Charter had been adopted by eight Community Councils, and CCOF was given a main seat at the Inquiry, along with Falkirk Council and Friends of the Earth Scotland. Together with the determination and hard work of residents, CCOF’s legal team presented a strong case about the risks of UOG development and also a case for the inadequacy of the EIA. Just as we were expecting Scottish Ministers to make their decision (they had “recalled” the decision due to public interest), they announced a moratorium on all Scottish planning applications for UOG development until further evidence had been gathered on its risks.
During a four month government public engagement between February and May 2017, the Community Chartering Network worked with Connecting Scotland to support 16 Community Councils to host Fracking Conversations for their constituents. Despite an overwhelming majority against UOG development, there were many who felt the moratorium and public consultation would ultimately lead to no change in a major story of our times: government in bed with big business.
However, in a welcome surprise, Scottish Ministers went against the grain of this story. On 3rd October 2017, the Energy Minister for Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, shared the Scottish Government’s decision to ban UOG development. The public engagement, he said, had demonstrated there was “no social license” for fracking in Scotland.
A Legal Lineage: Marginalisation to resistance to power
During the workshops for the Falkirk Charter, residents were asking themselves “Why isn't the law serving to protect us?" The Chartering process began to recognise a commons that needed protection and which, for the purposes of a legal argument, we termed cultural heritage. We argued it constituted “an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment.”
The lived experience that arises out of this commons has roots in a set of values that can be understood as ‘intrinsic values’. Tom Crompton, founder of the Common Cause Foundation, spoke as an expert witness at the Inquiry on the subject of values, stating that “human values are quantifiable; communities flourish when importance is placed on particular values; and changes in the social surround…will have effects on these values.”
In other words, the Falkirk Community Charter was asserting a need to experience life from a fundamentally different set of values to those of Dart Energy: co-operation rather than control and mastery; measures of wellbeing rather than measures of profit. There is an English lineage to asserting the importance of intrinsic values for living a valuable life, the Rochdale Pioneers of the 1840s and the Levellers and Diggers of the 1600s. Further back we can look to the circumstances leading to the Charter of the Forest.