Saturday, 27 June 2015

Here's Blue Tomatoes For You

Never mind Glastonbury. With a decision pending this week-end about fracking beneath our Blackpool doorstep, today's blog has no option but to pull its political boots on.

Almost exactly a year ago, Tom McNally made an impassioned speech in parliament on behalf of his home town. McNally, a former Fabian and international secretary of the Labour party, was a Labour MP for many years before defecting to the Social Democrats who in due course merged with the Liberal party. He is now a LibDem Lord but he hasn't forgotten his roots. I quote selections from his purple prose (though you can probably fin the complete speech online). He makes some telling points and expresses them very cogently. I am largely, though not completely, in agreement with McNally's views (unfortunately, he appears to be pro-fracking), as my appended commentary and accompanying poem will make clear...

"My full title is Lord McNally of Blackpool. I chose it in recognition of my pride and affection for that town where I grew up in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. In those days, Blackpool was one of the most successful holiday venues in Europe—an international centre for entertainment, with a hinterland supporting a diverse service and manufacturing base. It was an exciting place in which to grow up and one for which I retain an enduring affection. However, I am well aware that, although I retain many friends and family on the Fylde coast and although, as my son once shrewdly observed at the age of eight, “Daddy is always happier on a Saturday night when Blackpool have won”, I speak now as an exile of nearly 50 years.

My reason for using the opportunity of the gracious Speech to speak about Blackpool is that I worry that, without concerted effort by both local and national government, the town could reach a tipping point which would make regeneration impossible.
Over the past 30 years, Blackpool has had to deal with a variety of factors beyond its control, which together add up to the perfect storm. The decline of Britain’s old industrial base—the shipyards, the textile mills, the coal mines and the steel works, to which I referred a minute ago—robbed Blackpool of its traditional holidaymaker market just at the time when those in the new and surviving industries were discovering package holidays and cheap flights to the sun.

Blackpool is still Britain’s largest seaside resort with iconic attractions such as the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Pleasure Beach, which attract millions of visitors a year. However, unlike in my youth, most of those visitors are there for the day or the short term. This reduction in the length of visits has resulted in an oversupply of holiday accommodation. That, in turn, has resulted in many properties being converted into flats and houses for multiple occupation, which in turn become occupied by those on housing and other benefits. The result is high levels of social deprivation and poor housing conditions in parts of the town’s inner areas and an increasingly transient population, reinforcing social challenges. The blunt fact is that Blackpool has had to spend a disproportionate amount of resources, manpower and energy responding to social care, health, housing and educational needs which are not of its making.

Even after the disappointment of the casino decision, Blackpool has pressed ahead with a wide range of initiatives which I believe require a positive response from the Government. The Government need, at long last, to give tourism the priority that it deserves.

I heard what the Minister said about the shale gas industry and the comments and observations from my noble friend Lord MacGregor. What I say now is only a personal observation, but I believe that if there is a region where fracking could be done safely and successfully it is west Lancashire, with its long association with the chemical industry, with British Nuclear Fuels and with offshore gas and wind. There is an industrial tradition on the west coast which could very quickly be revived.

I know that the Cities Minister, my right honourable friend Greg Clark, has visited the town and taken a personal interest in Blackpool and its future. I would like him now to do a “Heseltine” and make a personal commitment to Blackpool’s future or, even better, dispatch the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, to Blackpool with an “action this day” brief to get things moving.
Because I have retained my Blackpool accent I am often asked where I come from. When I say Blackpool, there is inevitably an outpouring of fond memories of days of fresh air and fun, particularly the fun. That positive name recognition and good will is still there but Blackpool needs a little help from its friends. The building blocks of recovery are all there. A good deal of groundwork has been done. There now is a need for a positive approach from government which will turn opportunities into realities."

Thank you, Lord McNally. Yes, we're at a tipping point and yes, we could do with a little help from our friends in Westminster. We need inward investment and regeneration in the area, but for that to come from the fracking industry could turn out to be an own goal of grotesque proportions.

There has to be a solution more in keeping with the concept of Blackpool as a pleasuredome, rather than the seventh circle of hell.

We are only in the early stages of the battle. 3 planning applications have been considered to date, but another 124 are in the pipeline. I imagine the last thing Blackpool needs right now is the spectre - or even worse, the pall - of the fracking industry hanging over it. Nothing is more likely to further damage the aspirations of the town to rebuild its reputation as a premier seaside resort.

Don't frack on the Fylde!

My political sympathies have always been on the left. I rally to the red flag, not the blue. Cue the poem - a fusillade of rotten fruit (yep, tomatoes are fruit), aimed squarely at our over-weening Tory government...ripe for a pelting.

Blue Tomatoes
Blue Tomatoes
Margined in triplicate by topography,
on the western edge of county, kingdom, continent
sits sunny Blackpool, funny Blackpool,
the big-hearted town with the welcoming smile.

Now it's under a three-pronged attack
from austerity, exploitation and neglect,
our faded seaside splendour crumbling fast;
the economy is wrecked,
the point of no return is almost past.

With disingenuous political guile
you tell us that tapping shale gas
is the route to transforming the Fylde,
to fuelling a northern powerhouse,
that Blackpool will be
the fracking capital of Europe, no less!

Can you really see us sporting "Frack Me Quick" hats
and buying sticks of rock resembling fracking pipes,
happy idiots strolling down the golden mile
spilling petro-dollars like there's no tomorrow?
I don't think so!

We reject those eyesores in our meadows,
the well-heads of your greed;
we can do without your fleets of tankers
ploughing day and night
along our country lanes;
oppose pollution of the water-table
leaching to the sea.

Don't force the issue.
Our fruit will blemish on the vine
and all our swine run mad
if you foist this desecration on our land.
Here's blue tomatoes for you.
It's the only colour that you understand.

Thanks very much for reading. Here's to a frack-free Lancashire! Have a good week, S ;-)


Anonymous said...

I hear Cuadrilla are going to relocate their national HQ to Lancashire - not good news!