Balcombe anti-fracking protest camp draws to a close

The camp at Balcombe was in protest over fears of future fracking by energy firm Cuadrilla.

A six-day protest camp held at a site where exploratory oil drilling is taking place in West Sussex is coming to an end.

Activists who staged protests amid fears of future fracking by energy firm Cuadrilla told the landowner they would start leaving on Wednesday.

The camp at Balcombe saw two days of direct action during which Green MP Caroline Lucas was arrested.

Eleven protesters have appeared at Crawley Magistrates' Court.

They all pleaded not guilty to causing disruption at the site.

Three of the defendants were accused of locking themselves to a fire engine and the others were alleged to have blocked the road, the court was told.

The case was adjourned until 2 October for a pre-trial review.

Protesters who have been at the drilling site since 25 July are expected to remain there.

Cuadrilla suspended drilling during the six-day camp but said work would resume as soon as it was safe.

The firm said it condemned all illegal direct action against its operations.

'Shifting the debate'

No Dash for Gas, which organised the Reclaim the Power camp, said activists would continue their resistance to fracking in Balcombe and elsewhere around the UK.

Caroline Lucas holding 'Frack Free Zone' sign at Balcombe protest Caroline Lucas was arrested on Monday alongside her son and other protesters

Chris Peters, from No Dash for Gas, said: "We've always said it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and this is the first step to mobilising and shifting the debate around fracking.

"Today we are returning the field where we've been camping to the state we found it in."

He said the camp had been about educating and training people, and numbers of local anti-fracking groups across the UK would probably grow as a result.

Mr Peters said: "Activists who were at Reclaim the Power have already indicated that they are going to come back and support the existing Balcombe camp."

'Specific criminality'

He said the tie between No Dash for Gas and the Balcombe camp which formed in July would remain and activists would make sure it didn't "fall out of the spotlight".

Fracking protest camps

  • Reclaim the Power camp - organised by No Dash for Cash. A six-day protest camp being dismantled on Wednesday
  • Roadside camp - a camp of protesters who have been demonstrating in Balcombe since 25 July
  • Christmas tree plantation camp - a smaller camp north of the Cuadrilla site. Fireworks and drugs were seized from this camp on Tuesday, Sussex Police said

About 20 people were earlier served notice to leave a small camp at a Christmas tree plantation north of the Cuadrilla drilling site, and others left of their own accord, police said.

A police spokesman said there was no use of force and no-one had been arrested.

"These powers were used proportionately to remove a small number of people from this separate camp, due to specific criminality emanating from it," he said.

"This is the camp where fireworks and drugs were seized yesterday [Tuesday]."

He said any specific offences would be investigated separately.

'Continuing our fight'

Balcombe resident and protester Charles Metcalfe said campaigners who had been at the site for nearly a month would "be staying put".

He said: "They have no intention of moving. We here in Balcombe who are fighting the whole drilling process are continuing our fight. The problem has not gone away."

But another resident, Jamie Coppard, who has opposed the protests and believes fracking is needed to cut people's energy bills and reduce the UK's dependence on energy from abroad, said: "They illegally trespassed on the landowner's farm and ruined his field. He is not going to get any compensation."

Riot police have arrived at Balcombe Riot police arrived after Sussex Police tweeted that "officers must be ready for any potential incident"

Balcombe Parish Council said that when Cuadrilla announced its intentions for the site, the authority would poll residents to establish their views on how it should respond.

It said a poll in 2012 found 82% of residents said the council should oppose fracking and the top three reasons given were increase in traffic through the village, concerns about pollution of water supplies and concerns about the impact on the environment.

The "mass civil disobedience" by protesters saw police officers arrest more than 30 people, including Ms Lucas and her son.

The MP for Brighton Pavilion has been bailed and will learn next week whether she is to face charges.

Nine people have been charged and will appear in court next month, four were cautioned and released, and the rest are due to answer bail at the end of the month.

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