Cheshire police and crime commissioner John Dwyer is ‘outraged’ an energy company is not pursuing a test drill site just three weeks after a huge operation to clear protesters from the land which cost the constabulary £200,000.
A furious Mr Dwyer will be writing to IGas seeking to recoup policing costs associated with supporting High Court officials in their eviction of campaigners from the field off Duttons Lane in Upton.
He also points out the eviction operation was not without risk of serious injury given the state of the site.
In a short statement, IGas responded: "Protesters were on the site illegally. It is a matter for the local police authority to assess the policing requirements needed to support the eviction process."
Campaigners in both Upton and Mickle Trafford were overjoyed on Friday after learning results of seismic testing - which was carried out last autumn - by IGas had led the company to abandon exploratory drill sites in Duttons Lane and Salters Lane because they did not meet its criteria for the commercial exploitation of coalbed methane gas.
They feared test drilling may have led to a full scale fracking operation with concerns about air and water pollution as well as earthquakes and the impact on nearby house prices.
But Mr Dwyer is unhappy.
Had IGas announced it would not be drilling on the site then the activists would have left of their own accord, avoiding a ‘challenging police operation at considerable cost to the public purse’, said the police commissioner.
He said in a statement: “I’m outraged, frankly, that IGas have managed to take this decision so shortly after choosing to enforce the eviction.
“Once court-appointed bailiffs were called in, the constabulary had a duty to oversee an operation to ensure that lawful protest could take place, and that bailiffs, protesters and the wider public were kept safe as well as ensuring the company’s legal rights were complied with.
“It’s a credit to officers on the ground that it went without any major incident. But let’s be clear – it was not without risk of serious injury, given the state of the site.”
Mr Dwyer, a Tory elected police and crime commissioner who is seeking re-election this year, added: “I find it impossible to believe that IGas did not already know that they would be making this decision. If they had announced that they would not be drilling on the site I’m confident protesters would have left voluntarily and we could have avoided what was a difficult, challenging police operation at considerable cost to the public purse.
“I will now be writing to the directors of the company to set out my unhappiness at the approach they have taken and to demand that the cost of the police operation, which could have been avoided, is repaid.”
Mr Dwyer’s strong words echo those of Chester Labour MP Chris Matheson.
He said last week: “I will be asking serious questions about why IGas chose to discharge the eviction notice at Duttons Lane just a couple of weeks before this announcement. I expect Cheshire’s police and crime commissioner to send the invoice for this action to iGas directly.
“Council tax payers in Cheshire West and Chester should not be picking up the bill for this blatant disregard for public finances – especially at a time when this government is already slashing funding for our council by £57.3 million.”