by GK Strategy 30th June, 2015
3 min read

The importance of your local council

When’s the last time you wrote to your County Council? Unless there’s a whacking great pothole at the end of your road that you want fixed, you probably never have. And even if you did want to do something about it, you’d probably contact your MP.

Working in an MP’s constituency office as a caseworker many years ago, probably half of the cases we had to deal with were actually within the remit of local government – whether that was the City Council or the County Council. For local residents it was clearly confusing as to who did what. This is hardly surprising given I can think of no occasion at school where I was informed about the way such institutions related to each other.

The news report yesterday of a rejected fracking application in Lancashire shows that decisions made by councils can be pretty seismic (pun very much intended). Lancashire County Council decided to block Cuadrilla, which had previous with intransigent and disgruntled residents in leafy West Sussex, from extracting shale gas at Little Plumpton on the Fylde coast.

What’s most striking about this story isn’t necessarily the “triumph for democracy” – or NIMBYism, depending on your point of view. It’s that the county council’s planning officials had recommended the Cuadrilla plan for approval. So the experts, such as they are, had given the go-ahead to Cuadrilla – only for the politicians to stick a spanner in the works.

While it’s unlikely that this decision will spell the absolute end of the much-vaunted “UK shale gas boom”, due to the support the industry receives from Westminster, it is another major blow to the viability of investment.

It is a case study in the importance of local politics, the power of the resident, and fear of the unknown. If there’s one thing citizens don’t like, it’s the feeling that their home is being used as part of a lab experiment.

Other industries must learn from the mistakes the shale gas industry has made. Even with massive central government support, you have to take people with you and be prepared to play a long game in order to win. And most of all, you can’t let others fill the space for you, or else they’ll define the rules of that game so that you cannot win.

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