A brief summary based on an interview with George Whately.
In 1973 a campaign that lasted 14 years was begun in order to stop 2 oil refineries being built on Canvey Island. It was a grassroots campaign, a peoples’ organisation and non-political. It was successfully conducted, with George Whatley at its head, at a time when there was no computer or mobile phone technology – so no emails, Facebook, twitter etc. Photocopiers were also few and far between, so printers like Roneos were relied on. The protest group had to continually think of ways of keeping their protest as high profile as possible in the media. This involved amongst other things going on marches in London. The Met Police complimented the group on its peaceful protests. This was only possible because they had their own marshals.
Another of their aims was to discredit the oil company’s corporate image and to delay the start of building the oil refineries which would cost the companies a lot of money. In the end the protest group was so successful in their delaying tactics that it was no longer a viable proposition for the companies to build, especially as they were unable to get planning permission for expansion after they would have started building the refineries. If that wasn’t enough the Resistance Group had to fight the establishment and bureaucracy.
The seriousness of the position Canvey residents would have been in was officially recognised in the first ever risk analysis undertaken. In it, it was officially recorded that Canvey people were 5 times more at risk than a coal miner. From that point planning was turned on its head. It was no longer the case that residents or an individual had to prove that a company’s activities were dangerous, rather that the company had to prove that it activities were safe before planning could be granted. Therefore Canvey’s residents were instrumental in the change to Societal Risk Analysis Reports which became the first chapter in today’s Health and Safety Regulations.