The first pieces of a 78ft high drill arrived for fracking tests in a Sussex village yesterday.

Campaigners donning gas masks and wielding placards congregated outside the site where fracking is planned when news spread that pieces of rig were due to arrive in Balcombe.

The parts will arrive over four days – with the company behind the plans Cuadrilla hoping to start drilling on Saturday, but bosses are waiting for all of the necessary permits before they can begin.

Fracking uses high-pressure liquid pumped deep underground to fracture shale rock and release gas.

Residents in Balcombe and surrounding West Sussex villages have rallied against the plans for nearly two years.

Mother Vanessa Vines said: “When I first sawthe site nearly two years ago I thought they couldn’t possibly – It just beggars belief.

“I have done everything I can through the press, Facebook, local government and councils, and they just don’t listen.”

A post on Facebook page Frack Free Sussex yesterday questioned: “There were 873 responses to the Environment Agency Mining Waste Permit Consultation.

“How can they possibly justify issuing Cuadrilla a draft permit within days of the consultation having closed and with 873 detailed responses to look through?”

One Balcombe resident, who was outside the fracking site yesterday, said: “A police officer said to us today that they have never met a nicer group of protesters.

“Balcombe residents are very peaceful and don’t want to take any direct action.

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“But we have been peacefully hammering away and it isn’t getting us anywhere – people are beginning to think maybe direct action is the only way to be heard.”

Friends of the Earth South East regional campaigner Brenda Pollack said: “Drilling in the Home Counties brings the threat of fracking closer to Westminster.

“Government plans to give drilling firms tax breaks and a virtual planning carte blanche highlights its determination to push ahead – ministers must now be prepared for real resistance from their own heartlands.”

Cuadrilla confirmed the first pieces of machinery arrived yesterday, adding it would take four days for all of the parts to arrive.

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