Anger, tears and joy at Balcombe fracking protest site

The entrance to the caudrilla site 30-07-13
The entrance to the caudrilla site 30-07-13

The village of Balcombe continues to be the scene of an impassioned stand against the industrialisation of West Sussex countryside.

Anger, tears and joy have all been displayed during the campaign which has lasted nearly one week and continues today (Wednesday July 31).

Bianca Jagger, founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation and former wife of Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, joined campaigners at the Balcombe site over the weekend to mark her stand against the energy firm.

But for many, fighting the firm Cuadrilla is their first ever protest.

Georgia Lawe, 32, said she moved from London to Balcombe last Autumn and was ‘horrified’ to hear news that exploratory drilling for oil was going to be set up near her home in Mill Lane.

“We’ve exhausted all the options,” she explained, “they have left us with no choice but to physically stand ourselves on the road between the site and the lorries.”

The mother of two joined protesters at the site last week when the campaign was quickly gathering pace - attracting people from across the country.

“It does not save the energy crisis, it just pushes it onto my kids who in 30 years time will have to find another source of energy,” she continued.

“And if I hear one more time from anyone that it will drop the price of gas I am going to scream.”

Speaking of her fellow campaigners, she added: “I applaud them for their bravery and what they’re doing to support our countryside.

“I’ve never been involved in a protest before and I was amazed at the unification and the impact it has had.”

Towards the end of last week police presence increased and the atmosphere changed.

Children were reportedly crying as officers swooped in to arrest those who had blockaded the entrance to Cuadrilla’s site from delivery tankers.

Juliette Harris, 53, who has lived in Balcombe for more than 30 years, said her teenage son came home in floods of tears after police made arrests.

“I don’t want the British countryside industrialised,” she exclaimed.

Delaying the firm’s operation has been branded a small victory by protesters, because despite mass opposition, Cuadrilla says it will commence planned work as soon as possible.

However, the fight is far from over.

Village local Louisa Delpy, 36, who lives off Haywards Heath Road, has dug out a covenant from the 19th century she believes could prove a vital piece of ammunition for campaigners. It relates to land that forbids noise and noxious substances.

Cuadrilla has been made aware that protesters plan to take legal action to defend it.

“I come across as a NIMBY but the fact is that it’s going to be on everyone’s doorstep and until you spend time researching it you don’t understand what sort of an impact it has,” said Louisa.

The Green Party has backed plans to defend the covenant.

Natalie Bennett, the party leader, was at the site on Tuesday (July 29). She said: “Here in Balcombe the strength of local feeling against the drilling is obvious. The passion and the commitment is clear.”

Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for the South East, echoed the leader’s words.

He said: “The campaigners in Balcombe are modern day defenders of the land. They are fighting against a company desperate to drill into the countryside and a Government hell-bent on supporting extreme energy.

“This is the new front line in the fight between the protectors of the land versus the protectors of private profit. It’s an inspiration to campaigners across the UK and a warning to government.”

At the weekend celebrity Bianca Jagger joined the fight and supported protesters.

In a video message posted on Youtube she said: “It is important for people in this country to understand that what is happening in Balcombe can happen to you everywhere because the UK government has given the green light for Cuadrilla to go ahead.

“People will try to convince you that hydraulic fracking is going to be good for the country, that it’s going to bring jobs, that it’s going to make the price of fossil fuel cheaper - don’t be fooled. The harm that it will cause to this beautiful area - they’re fooling you.”

“Please inform yourself and look at the scientific evidence of what fracking will do to the environment.”

This week Kathryn McWhirter from the No Fracking in Balcombe Society (NoFiBS) thanked all those who came from outside the village to take part.

She said: “We stand united with friends similarly besieged elsewhere in the country, especially in the North West, on that other front line of the fracking fight. We in Balcombe feel bullied.”

Brenda Pollack, from Friends of the Earth, said the charity is actively supporting villagers who are concerned about the environmental impacts of test drilling. Campaigners say that more than 80 per cent of Balcombe residents are opposed to Cuadrilla carrying out exploratory drilling in the village.

But despite what would seem like overwhelming support, many locals remain neutral, said Derek Earl, of High Street, who has lived in Balcombe for more than 50 years.

The 71-year-old says he is ‘disgusted’ and ‘embarrassed’ by the campaign which has attracted national media attention.

“I don’t know enough about fracking but the Government seems to be happy to at least find out about it so let’s listen to the people who know what they’re talking about,” he said.

“It’s been going on long enough for the firms to know it’s safe.There’s no way that wind power and solar power are going to keep this country going. If [oil in Balcombe] is there and it can benefit the area then let’s use it, providing all the safe guards are in place.”

He said ‘poor old Cuadrilla’ had been ‘shouted down’ when representatives sought to engage with Balcombe residents at public meetings. Speaking of the protest site, he added: “It’s a complete eyesore. We’re embarrassed by the behaviour of some of the residents.”