Thursday, January 12, 2017

In Memory of John Cummings, former Easington MP

I was particularly saddened to hear of the death of John Cummings, whom I knew well in the period when we were fellow MPs from 1987 to 2005. He continued as an MP for a further five years after me.

It is not only that the MPs you get to know the best are normally those who are part of your own intake, but the only two times when John and I ever met outside of our parliamentary years both help to illustrate our strong connections.

We first met when both of us were seeking to be selected as candidates for the Labour Party, for the different areas in which we lived. There was, however, a big difference in our positions.

John was the leader of the Easington District Council, an electrician at his local pit and fully active in the National Union of Mineworkers in an area still dominated by pits. He clearly already had the nomination sown up from the start. Yet the surprising thing is that he became the only miner ever to represent the coal mining constituency of Easington or its previous Seaham Constituency. His Labour predecessors being Sidney Webb, Ramsay McDonald (who then defected to National Labour), Manny Shinwell and Jack Dormand. I always felt that Easington needed to be served at some time by a miner. John turned out to be the appropriate person.

In contrast, when I became MP for North East Derbyshire I become the first non-miner ever to serve the Constituency in the Labour interest. Although even with the pits in rapid decline, my own selection as a candidate turned out to be a much closer matter than John's.

When John used parliament to pursue the interests of his constituents, I followed his work with a special interest. For both my wife and I originate from the area covered by the Easington Constituency. My wife's father having worked at the coal mine at Shotton Colliery and my father at Easington Colliery.

During our period in parliament John and I (along with my wife Ann) went to Nigeria as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation. It was good to be with John whom we felt so close to. One of our visits took us to a rather isolated area with less than the normal first class hotel provisions. There was no shower nor other bathing facilities (beyond a bucket) and John informed us that he had had a “sparrow's bath”. It is a phrase (and practice) I have pinched from him whenever I am in a rush or face similar difficulties.

Unfortunately, I only met up with John once after we both left parliament. It was a somber but appropriated occasion.

There had been a pit disaster at Easington Colliery in 1951 when 83 men were killed (including two rescue workers). My father was at the pit at the time, but was working in a different seam to the one that was devastated. Local memorial services were held in remembrance of this disaster in 2011.   I met up again with John on this solemn occasion, which included a march from a local Church of England service to the mass grave at the Easington Colliery cemetery. It was led by the still existing local colliery band, playing Gresford – as it had be done many times during the funerals in 1951.

John had worked at Murton Colliery which was a neighbouring pit. Although this memorial was to be our final meeting and was built upon sad memories, it is also appropriate that it is the last time we met. It showed that the political path which he had followed was often a serious and somber business. In many difficult circumstances he showed that he had the background, values and abilities to seek to deliver improvements in the lives of those he served.

It is a pattern for others to seek to follow.

I also have a close personal debt to John. When my mother needed to be moved from accommodation in Donnini House at Easington into a care home (at the former residence of the pit manger), he helped in this process. This is a photo of him below, taken at Donnini House a decade later.

John Cummings, pictured at the opening of a new garden at Donnini House in Easington Colliery in 2005.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fracking On Our Doorstep

 The frackers are coming - object now

The Derbyshire County Council has produced a very important document entitled "Shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking)" for its area. It can be found via this link. The document provides a set of key links of its own, including access to documentation which has been submitted to it by the firm INEOS Upstream Limited. This firm holds authorisation from the Government to engage (under due procedures) in the exploration and exploitation of shale gas reserves across most of North Derbyshire and various others areas.

INEOS are expressing an interest in searching for shale gas in a field on land adjacent to Bramleymoor Lane, near Marsh Lane in the Parish of Eckington. It is border territory and the fields to the immediate south are situated in the Parish of Unstone.

Link here for the two page opening letter from the Office Director of INEOS to the Head of Planning Services at the County Council. This next link is to a 25 page document (including four  pages of maps) which is an application to drill a vertical core well in the above field. Then there is a further and important location map to be found via this link.

Yet all of this INEOS documentation needs to be handled with care. It is intended to give the impression that INEOS will merely be engaging in a vertical search for shale gas in an isolated rural area and that little disruption will occur.

Well that will certainly not be the case if they find what they are seeking.  For the next stage will be to seek to use this site to engage in horizontal underground fracking, which can cover lengthy distances. On page 6 of the INEOS publication entitled "INEOS - the energy behind UK manufacturing" it claims that its horizontal fracking activities can run up to 2,000 metres (which is around a mile and a quarter).

Near the field they will be operating from there is the built-up area of Marsh Lane. which commences just 300 metres (some 330 yards) from the field they will be operating in. Whilst the full 2,000 metres they claim they can operate over would reach Eckington, Troway, Apperknowle, West Handley and Middle Handley.

Then there is the possibility that horizontal underground fracking could reach much further than INEOS indicate. A firm called Halliburton in the USA have recently engaged in such an operation for a distance of three and a half miles. (See this link).  And INEOS can operate at the top level of this technology. So there is even a possibility of them extending their underground operations as far north as Mosborough in Shefield. South to Staveley, Brimington and the northern sections of Chesterfield. East to areas of Killamarsh. Then west to Dronfield over as far as its by-pass.

Even if the above are only extreme possibilities, wide sections of urban areas could still find fracking taking place beneath their homes, schools, roads, shops, churches and the like. We need to be aware of the range of unhappy possibilities.

On top of which,  the application to operate from Bramleymoor Lane is likely just to be the tip of the iceberg. Next they will come for the rest of North Derbyshire and surrounding areas. So INEOS need stopping even before they get started.