The Balcombe resistance continues with twists, turns and bizarre developments. Since Reclaim the Power ended, a callout for a 28-day rolling blockade dubbed ‘28 Days Later’ has been answered with a diversity of actions from a tripod in the road, to a local resident locked on to the roof of a tanker, a local environmental scientist handcuffed to the gate, a mass ‘balls to fracking’ football game at the gates and a man locked on to the tow bar of a caravan across the road – all stalling delivery lorries for up to five hours. Over 100 people have been arrested since the drilling began, with police increasingly carrying out snatch arrests and using obscure powers to quell protest.
As well as the Balcombe protesters' persistence and creativity, fracking firm Cuadrilla has experienced a series of setbacks on the site. Earlier this month it was discovered it had breached its planning permission by exceeding the amount of allowed noise pollution. Balcombe residents complained to local officials of loud drilling noise in the evenings, causing Cuadrilla to temporarily halt its drilling operations to install further sound proofing, but it has continued drilling on the site.
Earlier this month, Cuadrilla had to withdraw an application to extend its current planning permission. The application was originally filed in July and sought to extend its current planning permission, due to end at the end of September, by six months. However Friends of the Earth pointed out that the company should never have been granted planning permission in the first place, as current regulations require the company to notify landowners if they plan to horizontally drill under their homes. Cuadrilla has also discovered a need to extend its current drill site as it is too small to contain its operations. It further seeks to quell local residents’ fears by removing any reference to potential fracking.
While Cuadrilla plans to submit a new planning application, it will now have to cease operations after 28 September. This means that the fight to stop drilling in Balcombe has been moved back to the local council planning authorities. During a fresh round of consultation, local residents will be able to lodge objections to the proposed planning permission. This is also a major setback for the company as it will further delay its plans by several months.
And in a bizarre twist, it recently emerged that Cuadrilla may not have proper permission to drill the land anyway, as the land ‘owner’ has an agricultural mortgage with Lloyds TSB, who has not given permission for the non-agricultural use of the land. We await updates and confirmation of this situation.
Preparing to evict
Despite Cuadrilla’s drilling permission coming to an end, this week saw West Sussex County Council take the first steps in attempting to evict the Balcombe camp. On Monday, a county official served the camp with an eviction notice. The notice asked that protesters leave by 9am the next morning or the council would be forced to start legal proceedings against them. Earlier today the camp received a legal notice from the High Court for immediate possession, though protestors are contesting the short notice – Monday – of a court appearance that prevents effective preparation of a defence case. In a press release, the council said it was concerned by the increase in the number of blockades on the road and cited road safety as its reason for asking the protestors to leave.
Sussex Police also released a statement that same day, stating that a Section 14 order would be in place from 10am the following morning. A newly formed protest area would be set up across the road from the site to facilitate protests. Anyone found to be protesting outside that area would be subject to arrest. Many felt that this was possibly a backhanded way for the council to attempt to clear the camp. However the camp is still in existence, with the people in the camp defiant that they will stay. The council are now going through the appropriate legal channels to obtain a possession order which will allow the camp to be cleared. Much of the camp’s infrastructure is still in place, people are still camping outside the drilling site on the verges, and they are still standing in the road to slow the delivery lorries.
After 28 September, Cuadrilla plans to leave Balcombe and return to Lancashire to continue its drilling operations there. London-based company iGas is also scheduled to start drilling in Manchester within the coming months. Campaigners have vowed to replicate the Balcombe protest camp in any area of the country that is being threatened with unconventional fossil fuel extraction. It looks like we’ll see a very busy autumn full of anti-fracking action.