UK

Vivienne Westwood Joins Anti-Fracking Protest In Sussex

16/08/2013 17:16 BST
PA

Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood spoke out against hydraulic fracturing as she joined anti-fracking protesters at their camp in Balcombe.

She marched past energy firm Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site in West Sussex which has been the focal point of fracking protests.

Up to 1,000 protesters are due to join the six-day Reclaim the Power Camp on the outskirts of the village to highlight opposition to the controversial extraction method.

Surrounded by activists, Dame Vivienne called for a public debate on fracking as she believed it could store up trouble financially and environmentally for generations to come.

She told the Press Association: "I'm anti-fracking and I'm here to protest. There has been no debate. They are trying to rush this thing through, for what?

"It's not going to go away. We don't know whether it will do good or bad. I'm sure it's bad and the only people who are going to benefit from it is this energy company who are associated with the Government.

"They all have vested interests. It's kind of a club. They just do it to boost the companies. It will never go into our bills.

"In fact it won't supply energy security whatsoever. It will actually store up trouble for the future, financially as well as environmentally."

Dame Vivienne added: "I'm really against the idea that the Government is trying to push through legislation so that the councils can't even stop them.

"Who do they think they are when I would say most of the country is really against fracking, particularly at this point in time when we don't know what is at stake.

"You can't push it through."

At the camp, campaigners erected marquees, tents and kitchen and toilet facilities on the site, which is about a mile from the exploratory drilling project.

Cuadrilla, which has said it is unlikely to turn the site into a fossil fuel production area, has scaled back its operation on the advice of Sussex Police amid fears of unrest.

Some Balcombe residents have reacted angrily to the arrival of the anti-fracking protesters en masse, saying they are not representative of all villagers.

Derek Earl, 71, said: "I'm in the middle on the fracking debate, neither for nor against, but what I'm fed up with is the anti-frackers' behaviour.

"This lot have tunnel vision and they won't listen to anyone else's view. What is annoying is when they say that the overwhelming majority of the village supports them. They don't.

"I'm against all these rent-a-mobs who go to every protest going. This whole thing started out with villagers knitting and it was quite a happy atmosphere."

Mr Earl said the atmosphere had changed in the village, adding: "People's attitudes are hardening against these protesters. Balcombe is quite happy to protest on its own.

"We don't need this rent-a-mob."

Ewa Jasiewicz, of No Dash for Gas, said activists have a "working relationship" with the farmer who owns the land on which the camp was being set up.

She said: "We are hoping to mobilise the massive public opinion that is opposed to fracking and to fossil fuel and is looking for cheap, sustainable, clean energy.

"It's in all of our interests to have that and it's possible to achieve this. The obstacles to this are political and not technical.

"Fracking our earth and industrialising our countryside is not the answer. In fact it's going to exacerbate climate change and it's going to crash our carbon reduction targets."

Jane Thomas, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The drills may be paused at Balcombe, but as long as the Government gives frackers the green light, the huge threat to local communities and the environment remains.

"The benefits of fracking have been over-hyped. There's plenty of evidence it won't lead to a new era of cheap fuel, but it will pump more climate-changing pollution into our atmosphere."

The Reclaim the Power camp was due to be held at West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire which led to it being shut down and 21 people being arrested last year.

But organisers switched this year's camp to Balcombe, with No Dash for Gas saying it will attract a coalition of climate, anti-austerity and fuel poverty activists.

Balcombe has been thrust into the spotlight as the debate surrounding fracking has intensified, with disputed claims that it could cause environmental harm and bring down energy bills.

The controversial method of fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies.

Opponents of fracking have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.

David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract "real public support" when the benefits are explained, such as potentially cutting energy bills.

The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only "very minor change to the landscape".

Mr Cameron also claimed a thriving shale-gas industry could create tens of thousands of jobs.

He sought to play down fears about the environmental dangers posed by fracking, claiming there was "no evidence" that it would cause contamination of water supplies or other damage if properly regulated.

Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner weighed into the fracking debate, saying that the extraction method can come with "some questionable consequences".

Dr Warner, whose Sussex diocese includes Balcombe, said: "It is easy, but also dangerous, to claim the moral high ground in complex debate about the environment and our quest for new energy sources.

"The rich resources that fracking can unlock come with some questionable consequences, both for the present and the future."

Richard Ponsford, who owns Sidney Farm where the camp has been set up, said the activists came on his land without his permission.

Mr Ponsford, 59, said: "About three or four vans came on to the field and they spent about three hours barricading the field in.

"I certainly did not give my permission. There is no way I would have allowed them in at all."

The nine hectare land on which the camp is based may need to be reseeded at a cost of £4,000, depending on the state it is left in, he said.

He was not reassured by the activists' promises to leave the field in the same state as they arrived, saying: "They might not know how much damage they might do."

Meanwhile, Cuadrilla said they respected the right to peaceful protest and planned to resume operations as soon as it is safe.

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said: "Cuadrilla's exploration work at Balcombe involves drilling a conventional oil well.

"External groups protesting against hydraulic fracturing at Balcombe do so without any work proposal from Cuadrilla to judge.

"Any hydraulic fracturing proposal would require a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment, public consultations and multi-agency regulatory reviews, all of which would be available for scrutiny."