Chichester: Protestors Leave Camp

Anti-fracking protesters who pitched their tents outside the headquarters of a council have moved on following peace talks with officials.

Around 25 people who gathered with nine tents outside County Hall in Chichester, West Sussex, from Saturday had left this morning.

They moved in after the High Court granted West Sussex County Council a possession order for verges at Balcombe last week amid health and safety fears.

Balcombe was at the centre of national anti-fracking protests during the summer as energy firm Cuadrilla conducted test drilling on the outskirts of the village.

While most activists slowly moved on after Cuadrilla packed up, a small band of campaigners stayed on, prompting the council to take legal action.

The authority argued there was a safety risk linked to the encampment because the B2036 is unlit with a 60mph speed limit.

Vanessa Vine, of Frack Free Sussex, said "productive meetings'' were held between activists and council officials yesterday, leading to them to agree to move on.

She said: "It remains to be seen whether West Sussex County Council really is engaging meaningfully with this literally vital issue for residents of West Sussex, or whether the assurances are merely mollifications designed to tidy up the protectors on their front lawn and pass responsibility for energy infrastructure decisions on to national government.''

Conservative West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith said she intends to write for a second time to David Cameron highlighting the need for a nationwide debate about the facts surrounding fracking, and will hold further talks with the campaigners next month.

Frack Free Sussex said bailiffs had started tearing down the remainder of the camp set up outside the former exploratory drilling site at Balcombe.

West Sussex County Council said it has set up a new protest area, demonstrating its recognition of the right for people to demonstrate lawfully.

It said: "As promised during the High Court hearing, we have established a new designated protest area close to the entrance to the Cuadrilla site, and the siting of it was agreed with the protesters who have remained in the area.

"The protest area is bigger and on drier land and is also protected by safety barriers. This does clearly show that the county council recognises the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and lawfully.

"However, it is important that people realise that any form of camping inside this area is not permitted.''

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