A friend of mine has just moved from the epicentre of fashionable London, Sloane Square, to the wilds of Sussex. He is renting a house in Hurstpierpoint, a town he describes as a setting for Midsomer Murders. He has already upset the fearsome Post Mistress by daring to query her opinion in the matter of road tax discs. And he cannot set foot on the high street without receiving disapproving looks from the locals, almost all of whom are living in that comfortable time warp known as retirement.
But just a few miles up the road the locals have got really steamed up about something. In the town of Balcombe, Cuadrilla Resources is about to do some exploratory oil drilling. As night follows day there is now a ‘No Fracking in Balcombe’ campaign. “It seems such an inappropriate site”, frets parish councillor Kevin Bottomley. “It’s close to a water course, close to a viaduct, close to a railway and close to a rural road. What has it got going for it as an oil site?”
Well, Kevin, try this: maybe the reason it is suitable as an ‘oil site’ is that it sits above an oil field. No doubt Bottomley would be much happier if Cuadrilla moved its drilling onto an industrial estate or to a place inhabited by chavs but Cuadrilla clearly feels that the likely presence of oil should be reasonably high up the list of criteria for siting a well, and so Balcombe it is.
The challenge Cuadrilla faces
This country is plagued by Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard). The fact that Cuadrilla has a name like a rapacious sci-fi monster does not help its cause. Maybe it should change its name to ‘Mrs Marple Enterprises’. But still it is engaged in a task that is vital to the future prosperity of this country – finding energy.
And while the rocks beneath Balcombe are unlikely to ever supply more than a trickle, the gas fields’ off the shore of Blackpool could keep the lights on for decades – as my colleagues at the Fleet Street Letter have been pointing out.
Last year I went to Blackpool to watch the Open Golf and was charged about three times the going rate to stay in one of the numerous grotty seaside hotels that constitute the local economy. Somehow I cannot see holiday makers flocking to this miserable strip ever again, but the locals would much rather cling on to the past than embrace a new future.
So we have the ‘Stop Fylde Fracking Campaign’, conjuring up visions of contaminated water, radioactivity, queuing trucks, land subsidence and, of course, the famous ‘earthquakes’. Two such trembles have been attributed to the fracking activities of Cuadrilla. The first time, I would think, that anybody in one of those awful hotels has felt the earth move since the Edwardian era.
The characteristics of a Nimby
All over the country the Nimbys are marching together, holding aloft their ridiculous homemade banners and spewing out unsubstantiated scare stories simply to try to preserve their own dull existence. Forget the fact that their own prosperity was based upon the industrial endeavours of previous generations who concreted over the meadows and sent factory smoke belching into the blue sky. Forget the fact that this country is in a desperate economic battle against the rest of the world. Forget our young people, the fact that they need jobs, and the fact that they will never get them if we do not invest in a modern economy.
Boost our vital transport infrastructure by running a high speed train through the Chilterns? Not through my back garden! Build the world’s biggest potash mine in Yorkshire? Not if it spoils the view for the ramblers! Even here in Oxford where Chiltern Railways is eager to provide some real competition to the useless First Great Western, the locals are up in arms about the possible rumble of a few extra trains.
I am sick to death of these people, who stand in the way of every effort to achieve prosperity for this once great country. No doubt they are the first to complain about the size of their energy bill, the threat to their precious bus passes and winter fuel payments. No doubt they think they are entitled to 30 years’ worth of pensions despite the fact that their contributions have only funded 15. No doubt they think that wealth and jobs are sprinkled from the sky without anybody having to suffer any slight inconvenience. ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’ said John Betjeman, the arch apologist for bygone eras.