Balcombe residents and protesters keeping it real

Tony Kershaw/Rex Media

Tony Kershaw/Rex Media

Well, i dont think anyone expected this- least of all West Sussex County Council. To say they underestimated local constituents’ views in their plans to frack in the Weald is taking British understatement a weeny bit too far. For the many of us who do not normally trawl  local authority websites for potentially damaging and irresponsible planning applications, W.S.C.C.’s approval came as a nasty shock.

Where was the engagement and consultation phases talked about as sound practice?  Benefit sharing? …..( muffled sound of laughter in the background ). W.S.C.C. had given Cuadrilla planning approvals before most Balcombe villagers had ever heard of the insidious word ‘fracking’ or knew what it actually entailed.

Despite no shale gas as yet having been extracted anywhere in the UK, fracking has already shown the potential to split and fracture much more than solid rock – dividing opinion, creating uncertainly and putting Balcombe on the front line of an environmental showdown of global proportions. Extreme energy creates an extreme debate.  And though this A.O.N.B’s watercourses have not yet been filled with toxic flow back, fracking’s potential to contaminate is already all too clear,  seeping into our politics and even our language.

With local authority planing committee members moonlighting as oil and gas PR consultants and oil barons appointed unelected into the highest echelons of the UK government , the spin cycle has been set to maximum greenwash – to be powered on cheap  fracked gas of course.  The new Tory message on Energy, set presumably by the new Conservatives Chief Election Strategist,  Lynton Crosby ( moonlighting from his own firm Crosby Textor, PR representatives to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association ), is that fracking is better and safer than sliced bread – even wholemeal, if robustly regulated.

But  with the government moving to relax regulations around planning for onshore gas and mainstream news outlets helping to get the pro fracking message across,  it appears that, when it comes to fracking,  government , industry and media have morphed into one – a veritable frack-fest. Of the many misrepresentations to have already been spun, including fracking bringing energy security, lowering prices and even helping us reduce our CO2 emissions, perhaps the most pernicious has been the lie that the protesters at Balcombe were professional activists, a ‘rent a mob’  acting without the support of local residents – despite polling showing local opposition above 80%.

And despite the fact that Cuadrilla possess a license to frack obtained from W.S.S.C., despite stating in their original planning application the purpose of the exploration was to test the shale layers, and despite being an unconventional gas company using an unconventional  drill rig  – W.S.C.C. have stated that this is a conventional oil operation with no plans to frack. As such,  “concerns about fracking, and the perceived consequences of it, are not material in the determination of planning approval” – sound familiar? . On this basis W.S.C.C. are happy to continue to approve Cuadrillas planning requests, their most recent consent – the granting of a  license for the handling of radio active material – was an approval which coincided with news from Pennsylvania that streams have become irradiated by nearby fracking operations.

One wonders how long local and central government can continue its entrenched support of fracking interests and dismiss opposition as insignificant. Policing costs for the Balcombe drill site now stand at approximately £4 million …………..how many more drill sites for cheap gas?  Here are the Balcombe voices you wont hear in the Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun nor even the Beeb. -keeping it real:

Amazing people at Balcombe site – Letter to the West Sussex Gazette from a Balcombe resident

30 September 2013 at 11:19

As a Balcombe resident I had voted against Fracking so when I heard about a camp recently set up and opposing Cuadrilla and Fracking at Lower Stumble I wanted to see it for myself and find out what friends and neighbours in the village were talking about.

During the first week of August I went to the Balcombe protection camp. I had never been to anything like this before so it was with some trepidation that I went, unsure of what I would find.

What I did find there was a most amazing, diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds, lecturers, teachers, scientists, environmental advisers, musicians, artists, builders, students, and retired people, so many skills, many had taken time off work to come to the camp and be a part of protecting our beautiful village and woodland.

Some were from Balcombe, others from all over the UK, but what they all had in common was an absolute belief in the environmental catastrophe of allowing Fracking in the UK.

They created together a most beautiful, peaceful, clean, organised, safe camp. This was not what I expected.

After my first visit I was so impressed I went to the camp as often as other commitments would allow and my respect and awe of the people at Balcombe protection camp just grew and grew.

Their willingness to put up with difficult and challenging conditions day after day remaining peaceful, welcoming and inclusive was inspiring.

Those who have insulted, derided and verbally abused those at the camp without ever having spent time with them should feel shame at their ignorance, how easy it is to abuse others from afar often anonymously but how much more kind, dignified and human to meet and listen and learn.

“Fear always springs from ignorance” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

B O’Grady

By email

___________________________________________

From Louisa Delpy:

Dear Louise,

On 5th August 2013 you sent a letter to Balcombe residents stating:

“I’m very sorry for the disruption that you’ve experienced over the past couple of weeks from protestors at Lower Stumble Wood. Here at West Sussex County Council, the interests of our residents are our primary concern and I am keen to ensure that we support you as much as we can during this challenging time.”

I replied saying:

“Where is our apology for allowing this to happen in the first place? Where is our apology for allowing trucks in to the site past 1pm last Saturday? Where is our apology for providing incorrect information that an extension would be a full planning application and then it turns out to be a minor amendment? Where are the enforcement officers? Where will they be on 29th September the day after planning permission expires? Where will they be when the 13.7m flare which does not have planning permission is lit? Where are our councils, our representatives? Where are they – they are writing letters to residents to apologise for something 85% are against? I am proud to call myself a Balcombe resident AND a protestor and protector of our land. Please do not apologise to me about my behaviour, take responsibility and apologise for your own and most importantly do not allow Cuadrilla further permission to continue the industrialisation of our area of outstanding natural beauty and contamination of our water, air and soil.”

Following the high court case yesterday I repeat my statement above and ask that you return my phonecall of 5th August and respond to my emails. I know many Balcombe residents in addition to myself who are waiting for a reply from 5 weeks ago. By focussing your efforts and finances on taking this case to the high court you are not supporting me. I need your support enforcing the constant breaches of planning by Cuadrilla which are not being enforced. In what sort of organisation or structure of decision makers does road safety of primary school children come before allowing peaceful lawful protest at the Cuadrilla site? In what sort of organisation does it take 5 weeks to release a report on noise, in the meantime forcing Balcombe residents to do their own monitoring to prove the breaches? What sort of organisation allowed drilling to go ahead knowing there was not enough time to complete the operations at the site? You are leading this organisation and I think it is time you provided some answers on these questions.

I would like to also restate that on 18th June 2013 I attended a CLC committee meeting where it is recorded in the minutes “A Balcombe resident presented a submission to the Committee on concerns about fracking. The submission proposed that the County Council issue a clear statement on fracking and requested that it urgently review its policy regarding exploratory drilling, acid stimulation and fracking. The submission asked the CLC to refer the points raised to the relevant Cabinet Member and or Select Committee. The Chairman thanked the resident for her presentation and submission and agreed to pass on the points raised to the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport and the relevant officers” That Balcombe resident was me and despite continually chasing for answers and emailing yourself too, to which I have received no reply, I still have no details of what has happened to my submission 3 months on.

Kind regards,
Louisa Delpy
Balcombe Resident

___________________________________________

From Rosalind Merrick:

Dear Ms Goldsmith,

I am a resident of Balcombe. I am concerned that the WSCC’s influence and manpower go into ensuring that the company, Cuadrilla, are evicted from Lower Stumble by Saturday 28th September, and that no further planning permission is granted. Today a truckload of their toxic chemicals thundered past our primary school as the children attempted to cross.

It is horrendous for us to see and hear Cuadrilla in operation here, and we would like to use all democratic and legal means to stop them. The County Council’s eviction of the protesters is unjust and deeply ironic. Protecting the interests of this company is not the role of our council, nor Sussex’s expensive police force. WSCC’s safety concerns should focus on Cuadrilla’s reckless breaches of agreement, not on the peaceful protest outside the gate.
Yours sincerely,Rosalind Merrick
__________________________________________

All photos not mine- borrowed from the many dedicated fracking activists with many thanks

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