Malcolm Thomason was born in Balcombe and has lived in the village for 57 years. His home is 600 yards as the crow flies from Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site. He supports both the company’s activities and fracking. Over the past year, he has written about fracking on Twitter and in the letters’ page of local newspapers.
Balcombe used to be very friendly. People got on with each other. Everyone was friendly and courteous towards each other.
I was born in the village and wanted to die in the village. I now have no interest in staying here.
Going to school in Balcombe, you knew everyone in the village. 25 years ago I knew 90 per cent of the village. Now I don’t know 90 per cent of the village.
The changes started about 15 years ago, when property prices went sky high, when the only people who could afford to live here were London workers who could command large salaries to pay for large mortgages.
Everyone I grew up with could not afford to stay here and had to move out. People cannot afford on the average working salaries to move here with mortgages.
Pros versus antis
The village is divided. Alison Stevenson [the parish council chair] reckons it will heal. I would like to see the rift heal but I do not think it will, not in my lifetime anyway, because the anti-frackers are just belligerent, self-opinionated.
People used to have lots of conversations and now it is just a grunt hello and that is it. I know someone whose husband also wrote letters to the papers. She has friends who do not even speak to her and she is a long-term resident.
I’ve been reported to the police twice because of things I’ve written on Twitter.
I’ve had the police call on me once. I’ve been accused of harassment, intimidation and threatening behaviour over comments I made about anti-frackers. The police were nearly laughing. They drove from Crawley police station on a Saturday afternoon [during the protests] when there were 400 police at the site.
Most of the anti-frackers are in-comers who have been here 10 years or less. They don’t understand how village life works. They have moved here from towns. This a strange environment for them to be in. In a village, people speak to each other.
I know a well-known village couple who have just moved away because of anti-fracking protestors.
The anti-antis form the majority of the village. It’s not true that most people supported the protests. We’re the silent majority.
People didn’t want to fall out with their neighbours. I know a guy who was definitely pro fracking but he put a frack-free sign up so as not to fall out with his neighbours. Lots of pro-fracking residents are scared to voice an opinion so as not to fall out with friends.
When they did the door-to-door ballot quite a lot of people were saying anything that came into their heads so as not to fall out with them. We never had a clear indication of how many people voted in the original ballot.
In the latest ballot, 606 people didn’t bother to vote. Some people didn’t vote because they didn’t want their names traced back because there were numbers on the ballot paper. 600 people were quite happy with Cuadrilla and what they were doing.
The anti-frackers are definitely scared of property prices plummeting because they have paid such vast prices in the first place.
Last summer prices were steady and quite a lot of properties were for sale. In the last two-three months property prices have gone up. They haven’t fallen, ever, and houses are selling. FFBRA stated fracking would lead to £125m being wiped of the prices of Balcombe houses because of Cuadrilla’s work at Lower Stumble. This is not going to happen.
Cuadrilla and social licence
Cuadrilla organised two public meetings. They’ve sent eight letters to Balcombe residents. They kept us well informed. There was never any debate about whether they had a social licence. It was only the anti-frackers saying they didn’t have any social licence. The pro side was quite happy that they did.
I heard the drill once when the wind was in the right direction. When Cuadrilla installed baffles not a sound could be heard.
The trains passing through Balcombe and many aircraft create a far worse noise pollution every day. All the anti-fracking residents seemed to have much better hearing than the pro fracking residents.
About 10,000 vehicles pass through Balcombe every day, of which 200-300 are HGV lorries. The small additional amount of HGV traffic using B2036 to Cuadrilla’s site would not be a problem in my view, as long as they are not allowed pass the school from 8.30-9.14 am and 2.45-3.30pm during school term.
Oil fracking has been carried out at Wytch Farm, in Dorset and the RSPB Beckingham Marshes in Nottinghamshire for many years. Wytch Farm is in an area of outstanding beauty. No anti fracking protests have ever taken place at these two sites. Wytch Farm has a horizontal bore well which is 10,000m long, I am led to believe, which is the longest in the World.
Cuadrilla stated in a meeting with Balcombe Parish Council in May 2013 that fracking would not take place at Balcombe. This was confirmed by Cuadrilla in 2014 when they announced the rocks under Balcombe were already fractured enough to avoid any fracking.
On April 29th 2014 Cuadrilla were given permission to flow test well at Balcombe for Oil, which I fully approve of but the anti-fracking residents did not. Strange really that these people are now anti-oil as well.
The Cuadrilla site is so well hidden behind trees that if it wasn’t for protests no one would realise the drill site was there.
It was much the same as in 1986 when Conoco drilled same site for 23 days. There was no protest then. All village residents let Conoco do what they had to do and leave. A far better situation than protestors causing havoc as happened on the B2036 during the summer of 2013.
The amount of solar panels needed to power Balcombe I am told is about 14,000 panels, costing about £3,000,000. A good idea but will it ever happen? Of course not! The village residents would not allow this amount of panels to destroy the village of its natural beauty. The initial instalment of panels on a farm roof is not actually in Balcombe, but on Grange Farm, Crawley Down, about seven miles north east of Balcombe.
Repower Balcombe state on their website they are not anti-fracking. Yet when Cuadrilla was given permission to flow test at Balcombe, Repower Balcombe on Twitter, said: “We do not want our Sussex countryside dredged of oil”. I think that statement says all I wanted to know: they do seem to have an opinion after all re fracking/oil exploration.