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Balcombe anti-fracking protesters claim High Court victory
10:00am Monday 16th September 2013 in News
UPDATE: Anti-fracking protesters are hailing a High Court decision as a "resounding victory" in their fight against drilling in Balcombe.
The council gave demonstrators formal notice last week that they were no longer able to protest on the council-owned highway outside the site where gas company Cuadrilla is undertaking exploratory drilling.
The protest camp refused to leave, and this morning both parties were at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
But Mrs Justice Lang adjourned the application after describing it as "flawed", with the result that if the council does not apply to restore it in a new form by October 8, it will be either withdrawn or dismissed.
There were cheers in court by a group of campaigners - some of whom had instructed lawyers to contest the action, which the council said were necessary to avoid disruption of the highway.
The judge said that, although the case was presented as a straightforward matter of obtaining possession, it was more complicated as there was a need to balance the right to peaceful assembly and to demonstrate.
She had heard from counsel that the proceedings might well be academic as the planning permission granted to Cuadrilla three years ago will expire on September 28 and there was currently no application to extend it.
The company would not be permitted to drill after that date and it was likely that many campaigners would leave the site.
The question of who will pay the legal costs of the hearing was put off to a later date.
Tim Williams, of East Grinstead, who is part of the camp, told The Argus: "This is a resounding victory for the protectors of the environment.
"We know that Cuadrilla cannot be trusted. West Sussex County Council have no idea what they're doing. We're only trying to find out what is being put into the ground."
West Sussex County Council said in a statement: “We very much regret the adjournment of the case, but accept the court’s decision.
“The County Council reiterates that the reason for taking this action was to maintain road safety on a busy rural road, unlit at night with a 60 mph limit.
"The roadside encampment is very close to the edge of the grass verges, and there have been numerous encroachments into the public highway. In our opinion it is not safe. We also have a duty to keep the highway open for all traffic.
“The County Council now respectfully requests that the protestors behave responsibly and do not cause a safety hazard on the road or disrupt the highway.
“The court has been given assurances on behalf of the protestors that their action will cease on the expiry of the planning permission on 28 September. We expect those assurances to be fulfilled.
“Today’s ruling by the Judge does not exclude the Council returning to court before October 8 if safety issues on the B2036 escalate.
“There have been some reports that costs were awarded against the County Council. This is not the case. The Judge ruled that the issue of costs should be reserved which means that a decision has been postponed to a future hearing.”
Juliette Harris, a Balcombe villager for more than 30 years, said: "Eighty-five per cent of people don't want Cuadrilla in Balcombe.
"The majority of the villagers have been supportive of the protesters, and they have been down there in their hundreds.
"The protesters I have seen are decent, committed people who have been out in all weathers, and who have been demonised by the press and deterred by the police.
"We are thrilled that the judge thought that West Sussex County Council's application to evict was flawed. The council has done nothing to assist us and everything to help Cuadrilla.
"It's time the council paid attention because it is us who pay their wages."
Cuadrilla declined to comment on the hearing.
Meanwhile, the campaigners are calling for help on the ground in Balcombe.
Frack Off UK posted this message on its Facebook page yesterday: "As well as needing and appreciating support at The High Court the camp itself needs your help.
"There will be a large amount of pressure on the camp from now until the end of Cuadrilla’s planning permission (Sept 28th) and it’s more important now than ever to be dictating our own terms of resistance."
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