Week two at the Coal Bed Methane Public Local Inquiry

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith on Skype
At the start of the second week of the Local Public Inquiry there was an early start to allow witnesses to Skype in from Australia. The first witness was, Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, who is no stranger to Falkirk having spoken at a public meeting in Falkirk in June 2013. Dart’s QC line of questioning asked why she had not made clear at her public meeting that she was giving an overview of unconventional gas in Australia and not addressing Darts application specifically. Mariann explained she had given her talk all across Europe and if her intention was to specifically address the Dart application she would have titled her presentation accordingly. Dart essentially accused her of coming to Scotland to scaremonger and stir up the communities concerns, after the initial planning application closing date and after the Concerned Communities of Falkirk Mandate was drawn up. The following day when community representatives were being cross examined each person was asked if they had attended the public meeting accusingly. Dart's witness on Public Health accused the public meeting of causing unnecessary stress to those in attendance. 
 A video of this public meeting is available on the right hand panel of this blog. 

The second witness from Australia Dr Geralyn McCarron gave evidence on the health symptoms of communities living in close proximity to Coal Seam Gas wells. She spoke of a community who “thought they were living in paradise and found they were living in a gas field.” She spoke about the mental health impact of residents feeling trapped by their circumstances. These themes was taken up the next day when Alison Doyle from Concerned Communities of Falkirk shared her heartfelt evidence of her sense of threat to her “secure sense of home.”

“They thought they were living in paradise and found they were living in a gas field.”   Dr Geralyn McCarron 

Both witnesses from Australia emphasised their belief that the community require to be consulted and given all the relevant information.  The Dart QC suggested that Dr McCarron was not aware of the public process involved in a Local Public Inquiry in Scotland. He tried to explain that this is a Public inquiry. The community are represented by their elected members. “What can be more public than that!” The question I had at that point was were Dart not aware that the elected representatives at both Falkirk and Stirling Council had rejected their planning application. When I got home I had a letter through my letterbox from Michael Matheson , my constituency MSP and Public Health Minister, in regards to the ongoing debate on the National Planning Framework. The letter included the following paragraph:

‘You will be aware that I remain opposed to the planned development within the Falkirk area for unconventional gas extraction.”  Michael Matheson MSP

Having attended two Local Public Enquiry’s in Grangemouth I would challenge the concept of Public in the title of the process. The Inquiry and Hearing process of a LPI is difficult for the public to follow due to the hundreds of documents that are referred to and the legal processes within cross-examination. Held when the majority of the public are working over a period of weeks it is virtually impossible for the public to follow. 

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