RESIDENTS came together to oppose new Government plans which could see communities losing the right to block fracking.

The plans from Westminster come as part of a scheme to create a shale gas industry within a decade, but the people of Balcombe came out in numbers to protest.

After weeks of successful campaigning against fracking in the village in summer 2013, including the arrest of Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, no fracking went ahead at the Lower Stumble Wood site.

She was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The protesters returned to the site on Sunday as part of a nationwide demonstration.

Balcombe resident Malcolm Kenward said: “It’s an attack on democracy, the way the Government is passing legislation in all-out support for companies prospecting for unconventional oil and gas.

“Back in 2013, when all this was in its infancy, Balcombe made a stand.

“We have learnt a lot more since then about the risks posed by unconventional oil and gas exploration, and about the machinations of government and industry.

“It’s impressive how this weekend people like us right across the country came out to make a united stand, saying no to fracking.”

The morning of concerted action also intended to raise awareness of these issues in communities across the country.

In the South East, the new licences for potential fracking cover much of the Isle of Wight, a patch north and east of Andover in Hampshire, another north of Bognor, and one around Lingfield, Surrey.

These are in addition to existing licensed areas, which include much of the Weald.

The Government’s 10-page plan, seen by a national newspaper, sets out a timeline for the expansion of shale gas enterprise in the UK.

The project could see fracking wells classified as nationally significant infrastructure.

If given the go ahead, councils would be stripped of the ability to block planning applications for fracking wells.

It would mean unelected planning inspectors would be given the power to decide whether or not shale gas drilling sites get the green light, paving the way for a huge uptake in fracking.

The policy would also speed up the planning process.