The additional cost of policing protests at a fracking site in Yorkshire has been published for the first time today.
Police have been working with the local community and protesters since May 2016 when Third Energy was first given approval to carry out fracking at Kirby Misperton, near Malton.
But a higher police presence has been needed since preparatory work began on site in September, with protesters taking action outside the site off Habton Road on an almost daily basis.
Figures published by North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner reveal that additional costs up to August 31 were £80,238 and a further £101,476 was spent in September alone.
This represents the cost of police officer overtime, equipment, subsistence and travel-related costs, but not the cost of officers assigned on a day-to-day basis since they would be working regardless of any protest.
Superintendent Alisdair Dey said: “We always respond proportionately to any protest activity. That means at times there will be an increase in the number of police officers in Kirby Misperton. They are there to uphold everyone’s rights under the law and to protect people from harm."
Protests have included the construction of towers, people climbing onto wagons heading toward the site, and people laying down in Habton Road with their arms inside concrete and metal 'lock on' devices.
It escalated at the weekend when three people climbed 60ft up one of the rigs on the site of the KM8 well, with two of the three staying up there overnight.
Supt Dey said: “It’s a significant challenge to balance the rights, needs and wishes of all parties involved in this issue. That includes the right of people to assemble and protest peacefully, balanced against the right of local people to go about their daily lives safely and without disruption."
Officers made 26 arrests during September, with charges brought in 22 of those cases. Two people were cautioned and no further action was taken in two other cases.
The earliest potential date for fracking itself to begin at the site had been given as Thursday this week, but a Third Energy spokesman said today that the start date would be later because the company was awaiting final authorisation from the government still.
Ms Mulligan has committed to publishing the figures for additional cost every month, but the total spend including all regular officer hours will not be revealed until the operation has come to an end.
If spending on Operation Kingfisher has continued at a similar rate throughout October, then the additional cost to date is likely to stand at more than £250,000.
Ms Mulligan said: "North Yorkshire Police has the necessary contingencies and budgets in place to ensure the force is able to deal with events such as policing protests.
"Above and beyond our usual budgeting there are also reserves earmarked for any major incidents that arise during the course of the year.
“However, should the cost of the operation increase to over one percent of the total policing budget in North Yorkshire, the government holds a fund to assist local forces.
"I am seeking reassurance from the Government that money from this fund will be available, should it be needed.”
In the meantime, the force must not only manage the financial impact but also the impact on police resources available across the rest of the county.
Ms Mulligan said: “Operation Kingfisher is a significant resourcing challenge, so it is likely to have an impact on policing across the rest of the county, but I know the Chief Constable is
committed to keeping that impact as minimal as possible.
“I am confident that the force has prepared very well for Operation Kingfisher, and for extra reassurance, as well as having a ‘gold’ commander for the fracking operation itself, a second Chief Officer has been given responsibility for ensuring the wider service is maintained as far as is possible.”
Supt Dey said the force's budgets included contigencies for operations such as this and was kept under review continuously.
He added: “I’d like to reassure people that, although we are focused on this operation, it is still ‘business as usual’ elsewhere for North Yorkshire Police, and we are attending to all of our usual duties and providing a high quality service across North Yorkshire and the City of York.”