Balcombe One Year On

July 25th 2014

On July 25th 2013, the first lorry arrived to deliver equipment to Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe. Its passage was blocked by a group of anti-fracking campaigners.

The stand-off marked the start of a protest that lasted 65 days. It made Balcombe a household name and raised awareness of fracking across the world.

By the end of the protest, the cost of the policing operation had reached nearly £4 million. The cost of legal action is still unknown. 125 people were arrested but prosecutors secured only 29 convictions. Cuadrilla found evidence of oil but its planning permission expired before it had time to test the flow rate of the well.

During the past 12 months, West Sussex County Council and the Environment Agency admitted to mistakes in their handling of what happened at Balcombe.

A review of the policing operation found Sussex Police was caught off-guard by the protest. The review also revealed, as suspected by many campaigners, that the police used covert intelligence-gathering.

The issues of fracking and the protests have divided Balcombe. People have lost friends and gained others. Many have learned new skills and acquired vast amounts of new information on subjects as varied as geology, the oil industry, politics, planning and the regulatory system.

More recently, West Sussex County Council granted planning permission to Cuadrilla to test its well and install a flare. But the council’s decision-making process may be subject to a judicial review in the High Court.

Balcombe is said to be calmer now but rifts remain and many people feel very differently about their neighbours, politicians, council officers, the regulators and government.

To mark this anniversary, we invited people to reflect on the past year. Click on the links below to read their thoughts. There’s also a timeline of key events and a summary of the ballots of Balcombe opinion.

Alison Stevenson
Chair of Balcombe Parish Council
“We [the Parish Council] were not there to be emotional, we were there to get the best we could from the system for the people who live here.”

Bill Acraman
County Councillor for Balcombe
“We were knee-deep in coppers, more there than a cup final. That actually annoyed both sides”

Charles Metcalfe
Balcombe resident, wine writer and campaigner against fracking
“There may be regulations on paper but no one is regulating”

David Perrin
Balcombe resident and member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“I’ve always been a Tory voter. There’s no way I’m going to vote for them again.”

Douglas Wragg
Balcombe resident and member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“We really had two choices: just to lie down and let Cuadrilla walk all over us or to stand up and be counted. And I am very happy to say that I took the latter decision.”

Helen Savage
Balcombe resident and member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“I didn’t feel that, on the whole, the police were facilitating a protest. They weren’t. They were facilitating Cuadrilla and the Government”

Kathryn McWhirter
Writer, Balcombe resident and spokesperson for No Fracking in Balcombe Society
“Campaigning against fracking has been a huge life-changing thing. And absolutely life-filling. It fills the whole time.”

Louisa Delpy
Balcombe resident, project manager and opponent of fracking
“From a project management perspective, I can’t see this project [Cuadrilla’s operation at Balcombe] running well. The more I looked at it, the more gaps there where and the more concerned I became”

Malcolm Thomason
Resident born and bred in Balcombe and supporter of fracking and Cuadrilla
“Cuadrilla kept us informed. There was never any debate about whether they had a social licence. It was only the anti-frackers saying they didn’t. The pro-side were quite happy that they did.”

Mark Redbourn
Police sergeant and Police Liaison Officer at the Balcombe protests
Whilst we were there no one was seriously hurt, the local residents did manage to go about their business without too much disruption, the protest was allowed to take place and the company did actually do what we believed they had a lawful right to do. That’s a hell of a balance.

Rob Basto
Campaigner against fracking who was arrested at Balcombe
“It did seem like the police operation at Balcombe was designed to deter people from protest but it was probably not very successful in this. It has probably strengthened and encouraged them.”

Rodney Jago
Balcombe resident who supports Cuadrilla and fracking
“There are some fundamentalists who regard drilling for oil as the equivalent of child abuse and anyone who supports it in the slightest way is a disgrace.”

Name withheld
Balcombe resident and member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“The fact that there is this opposition is a reason to be very optimistic about people and what they are made of.”

Stuart Gregory
Balcombe resident and member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“Fracking is perceived by a lot of engineering males as a pioneering, high-tech, heroic exploration. The reality is completely different. It is “shoot the natives and get the money out of the ground”

Sue Taylor
Chartered accountant and founding member of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association
“Pre June 2013, I thought fracking must be OK, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. Now I think it would be a complete catastrophe if it sets off in this country. I can’t see any upside.”

The following were invited to take part but declined

  • Cuadrilla
  • Celtique Energie
  • IGas
  • Francis Maude Conservative MP for the area including Balcombe
  • Charles Hendry Conservative MP for the neighbouring constituency
  • UK Onshore Operators’ Group
  • Department of Energy and Climate Change
  • Office of Unconventional Oil and Gas
  • Other supporters of fracking in Balcombe

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