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Balcombe roadside protesters to be evicted
5:25pm Monday 9th September 2013 in News
Anti-fracking protesters have been given 24 hours to move from the roadside in Balcombe where they have been camped for the past two months.
West Sussex County Council confirmed it will remove people, roadside tents, canopies and caravans on the B2036 London Road near to the site where energy company Cuadrilla is completing exploratory drilling work for oil, over increased concerns for the safety of all road users.
Notices were served today and if the land is not vacated within 24 hours, it will be followed up with court action to seek possession of council-owned verges and an injunction preventing people from returning, a council spokesman said.
"This is a very busy road with a 60mph limit, and unlit at night. There are increased safety concerns that as a responsible highways authority we must address," he said.
"Our action is designed to protect all road users, including the people on the verges and passing motorists. It is purely and simply about road safety, and also keeping the public highway open."
He said there had been a number of incidents in the road which gave rise to new concerns, including an incident where a man climbed a tripod in the middle of the road where cars had to take avoiding action, and 60 children were delayed in getting to school.
He said: "We have been monitoring the area closely. It is clear people are regularly straying on to the road and we also need to re-establish visibility lines for accesses to a nearby farm and business unit.
"Local schools have started a new term and as a result there is likely to be more traffic using this section of road. There has also been rain and that brings with it the risks of vehicles skidding if they are distracted by activity in the road or on the verges.
"We would emphasise again that this action is being taken to protect all road users.
"This is not about removing the right to peaceful protest. The council and police are establishing a defined area where peaceful protest will be facilitated.
"We would encourage protesters to use it.
"We need to strike a balance between the safety of road users and the democratic right of people to protest lawfully. We believe that this move meets this balance and shows that we are acting reasonably."
Last week, Cuadrilla announced it had withdrawn an application for an extension to its planning permission for exploratory drilling at Balcombe. This means that a planning committee meeting due on September 19 has been cancelled, the spokesman said.
The company has confirmed that a new planning application for the site will be lodged in the near future, but this will not go in front of the committee before 2014, and there will be a full consultation with every opportunity to make representations, he said.
Kathryn McWhirter, from the No Fracking in Balcombe Society, said: "We are horrified at the treatment of these dedicated people who have been here with our blessing for weeks now, helping us to protect our countryside, our health, our water, our air.
"The council is not acting today on behalf of the majority of residents of our village."
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