Fracking lobbyists forged letters and posed as students

Many thanks to Powerbase for much of the source material for this post.

Fracking lobbyists PPS Group are often to be found desperately spinning the frackers’ message. Yet the handsome offices of the Mayfair-based PPS belie a dark underside – the company has regularly been accused of using underhand tactics to mislead the public.

On 30 July 07 PPS was exposed for ‘trickery, deceit and manipulation’ in securing planning permissions. Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and the Evening Standard accused PPS of forging letters in support of developers and disguising themselves as students to help obtain planning permission for more than 700 homes in Fulham.

The Standard revealed internal PPS documents, leaked by concerned staff, showing the then PPS director in charge of the Imperial Wharf account, Nick Keable, describing how the company had ‘created a large number of letters for projects as diverse as power stations, quarries, and supermarkets’. Evening Standard journalist Andrew Gilligan also revealed that many of the supposedly favourable letters sent to the council came from people who could not be traced. Real residents told ES that letters they had supposedly sent, backing the development, did not reflect their views, were not written by them and included signatures that had been faked.

The Standard also ‘obtained a PPS document instructing a staff member to pose as a student in order to get information from councillors, and told of ‘how the local councillor for Imperial Wharf, Brendan Bird, was visited by two people claiming to be students and asking detailed questions about the planning application’.

A similar fake letter campaign took place regarding Stansted airport expansion, although the Evening Standard couldn’t prove that the letters came from PPS. That didn’t mean the company wasn’t above planting another ‘student’ at meetings. The Evening Standard reported: ‘At an SSE [Stop Stansted Expansion] public meeting in January 2006, Carol Barbone, the group’s chair, was approached by a young man, Phil Bartram, saying he was a journalism student and wondering if he could take… copies of SSE’s research and slideshow presentations for his studies. Ms Barbone handed them over.

Only several months later, when a supporter received a message from Mr Bartram with a BAA email address, did she realise that he was actually on a work placement with, and subsequently fully employed by, BAA.’

Which raises questions in Lancashire. What supportive letters did Lancashire County Council receive when considering planning permissions for Caudrilla? Who are these letters from? Are they from real members of the public? Could PPS be up to something similar in Blackpool?

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