Sharing this OPEN LETTER from Lisa Bower who was at the helm of Blackpool & Fylde College - Students' Union until this year - in response to announcement today regarding new status as FRACKING COLLEGE:
Last year at Blackpool & the Fylde College SU, our focus was to create a Students’ Union that was relevant to our local area; addressing student concerns and promoting involvement within the community. We had a very successful year doing this through environmental and sustainable activities as well as charity work. Throughout the year, we also questioned the college about any involvement with Cuadrilla, the position taken on fracking and if any funds were received. The Students’ Union would not take a stance until it felt that the student body had all relevant information - a stance that left me open to a witch hunt for a short while.
We were assured that no stance for, or against fracking had been taken at that point. It was clearly a topical issue and it was expressed that the student body did not really understand all of the issues on either side and that many were fearful to express an opinion at all.
A fracking debate was then to be held at the college, arranged by the 14-19 Directorate, for students to attend. As I understand it, Cuadrilla refused to enter into the debate if Tina Rothery (local anti-fracking campaigner) was present. This was disconcerting, as Tina has represented the movement as an expert activist in the House of Lords and would therefore, along with relevant industry experts, have been ideal opposite Cuadrilla’s own industry experts. She agreed to stay away from the debate in order that it at least proceed. In the end, the debate never took place.
It is with this in mind, the news of B&FC becoming a “national fracking college” has disturbed me deeply and I feel the flux of emails that have already started to reach the Students’ Union is only the beginning. It beggars belief that whilst Fylde Council voted against Cuadrilla planning proposals for sites and Lancashire postponed decisions, requiring more information the College would not. The Councils are listening to the community outcries and responding, albeit slowly. To then transform the focus of a main educational establishment to a process that may hold risk for the local environment, without consulting communities or even the students and staff who have real future investment locally, is disgusting when you consider that the College is publicly funded and should firstly answer to the local public and not to the gilt purse strings waved in its direction.
The energy industry is important, and having a wide range of engineering skills that can support traditional fossil fuel processes as well as the development of renewable sources is central to that industry. But fracking is a questionable process at best - surely the fact that it threatens our most basic need, water, should be enough to pause any commitment to this industry while proper discussion takes place.
The College promotes partnership, an agreement between the institution and its students and because the new HE President isn’t currently in post, I feel the need to speak up. I want to ask B&FC a favour in the spirit of critical partnership and friendship: I feel I have the right after working voluntarily last year to ensure a genuine partnership was being established. I am begging the College to not forget its end of the deal. To not pursue this route any further until information has been freely shared and students and the local community have been able to participate in a dialogue. Please don't forget the reason you exist - it is to educate students to make positive contributions once they leave education. How positive will that contribution be if that education results in the poisoning of the local area, in illness caused by contamination of our water supplies and the degradation of our local geological infrastructures.
Former B&FC Students' Union Higher Education President, 2013/14