On Friday night a group of us traveled down to Balcombe to support the local residents fight to stop Cuadrilla’s drilling activities. Over 80% of the local residents oppose the company’s presence. The local council even admits that they didn’t even know what fracking was when they approved their planning permission!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a slew of police vans and cars. Despite the heavy police presence, the group were in good spirits. There were several camp fires going and even a bit of a sing-a-long. If you ignored the police, it felt like any other camp ground that you would come across on a lovely summer evening.
There were rumours that Cuadrilla would start to bring in their lorries as early as 7:00 am. So at 6:00 am the camp awoke to try and figure out a way to stop the frackers from getting in. Several Cuadrilla engineers drove on site and were greeted with a chorus of boos. The first lorry to arrive was actually to clean the toilets on the drilling site. A group of ten people stood in the road to stop the lorry from entering. G4S argued that we should let the truck through as it was only there to empty the loos. But as we all know, lack of sanitation is health and safety issue that can lead to a work site being closed down. So the group stood firm and refused to move. The lorry eventually was turned away resulting in a small victory for the group.
However, some felt that perhaps we should let the lorry through. So we got together for a group meeting to come to a consensus about whether or not to let the lorry in. G4S promised that they wouldn’t move the lorry until we came to a decision. So as the group moved to the side of the road to have a meeting, the security detail quickly called up the lorry and had it rush into the site as we were deliberating. First lesson of a blockade – do not trust the site security!
An hour later ten police vans showed up. At this point, there were only thirty protestors on site. So this seemed incredibly heavy handed and unnecessary. Moments later a delivery lorry appeared up the road and the stage for a confrontation was set. Many local people gathered in the road in front of the lorry with signs as a show of opposition. One brave woman sat in the middle of the road and refused to move. She said that she had come to do all in her power to stop the lorries as she knew that Cuadrilla’s activities would only lead to poisoned air, water and worsen climate change. The lorry was delayed for several minutes. But she was arrested and the lorry made it through the blockade.
By mid morning, bus loads of people arrived on site and the group of supporters had swelled to one hundred. Many more local families were coming down from the village to show their opposition to the drilling going on in their village and to say that they didn’t want fracking or any extreme energy anywhere in the UK.
Throughout the day, more lorries arrived on site and more people began to stand in the road to stop them. One woman created a lovely heart wreath in the middle of the road from the local foliage surrounding the area. A police officer reminded her that the artwork would be destroyed by the lorries driving over it. But of course, that was the point. The message is quite clear. These horrible industrial vehicles are going to destroy the countryside and all of the lovely nature around it. A point that seemed lost on the police as well as the local council.
It was noted that three lorries that had come in for site deliveries were damaging the road. “Aren’t they supposed to be weighed?” asked a local resident standing nearby? “And exactly who is going to pay for the repairs to the road? Surely not the company!” As if they were waiting for their queue, Sussex road maintenance workers showed up to sprinkle sand on the damaged road. The drilling activity on the site will mean that there will be roughly fifty lorry deliveries over the month. If three lorries cause that amount of damage, how much damage will fifty cause? And why should the local people pay for the privilege?
During a lunch break, the carnival atmosphere continued. A group of brave men and women took off their clothes and staged a naked protest. Adorning themselves only with placards, they marched up the road to the site gate. An embarrassed police force wasn’t really sure what to do. But when they finished their march, they were instructed that if they refused to put their clothes on they would be arrested for public nuisance! As the naked protest was going on, a Cuadrilla scarecrow was being erected by the side of the road. This is a very creative and festive demonstration indeed!
At 2:00 pm another lorry began to make its way down the road. A local surveyor marched up to a police officer and informed them that in Cuadrilla’s planning permission, they promised not to make any deliveries on Saturday after 1:00 pm and that this delivery was unlawful. What was the police going to do about it? At first the officer said that they don’t have any evidence that this was true. So a resourceful local woman joined the conversation with a copy of their planning permission and pointed out the appropriate paragraph.
Initially the officer wasn’t going to do anything but the residents pushed them to do something. Surely they shouldn’t be facilitating the illegal delivery of goods on site. Reluctantly, the officer made a few phone calls to find out what was going on. But in the meantime patently refused to stop the deliveries because as far as they were concerned, Cuadrilla’s refusal to adhere to their planning permission was a civil matter and not a criminal one! After fifteen minutes, the officer came back and said that Cuadrilla has received an extension for their deliveries from the local council via email and that they were not going to make any more deliveries as it clearly upset the local community. Strangely, there was no evidence of such email nor any sign of any other delivery trucks. So many came to the conclusion that this email did not exist and that Cuadrilla never intended to have any additional deliveries other than the one that arrived at 2:00 pm.
After the trucks left, more supporters came down to join the camp. Music began to play and dinner was being prepared for the camp. A festival atmosphere returned to the camp and everyone settled in to relax a bit and start to plan for the next day. Despite the lorries being able to make the deliveries, everyone was in high spirits and determined to remain outside the site as long as possible. Tomorrow is another day in the long battle for Balcombe!
You can view more of our photos from the Great Gas Gala on our Facebook page.