Balcombe; Police Leave Protest Site

27 September 2013, 16:49 | Updated: 27 September 2013, 16:56

Police said they are winding up their operation overseeing anti-fracking protests in West Sussex as the final cost to taxpayers is expected to hit around £4 million.

Energy company Cuadrilla has been spending the week clearing the site at Balcombe after completing its exploratory oil drilling earlier this month.

Although no hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been taking place, the village has been thrust to the forefront of anti-fracking protests over the past two months.

Amid often fraught scenes between police and protesters, Cuadrilla has been involved in drilling a vertical exploration well, collecting rock samples.

Hydrocarbons, which can be used for fuel, has been confirmed at the site and Cuadrilla plans to apply for planning permission to carry out further testing to determine flow rates.

Sussex Police said the firm is due to leave by Friday night and policing numbers will be pared back as protesters camped outside the site are expected to move on in days.

Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs said: "We will maintain a few officers in the area, mostly to ensure road safety as traffic returns to normal on this unrestricted, unlit road, but we don't expect protesters to remain in the area now that the focus of their protest has departed.''

The cost of policing the protests since they first sprang up in July has reached more than £3.3 million, according to calculations.

But the final cost is expected to reach around £4 million, the force said. Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner, is applying for financial help from the Home Office, saying that fracking is a "national issue''.

More than 100 people have been arrested since the protests began, including of former Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas.

She learned this week that she will be prosecuted for breaching a police order on public assemblies and wilful obstruction of the highway during two days of "direct action''.

Ms Lucas, who will appear at Crawley Magistrates' Court on October 9, has said she believes in the right to peaceful protests and remained alarmed about fracking.

Mr Hobbs acknowledged that "the legacy of the operation will remain with the local community for a long time'' but hoped the village could return to normality soon.

He said: "The operation has had a significant impact on the community and on Sussex Police and I should like to thank everyone who has remained supportive of our officers and their efforts to ensure that everyone was treated fairly and that they were able to carry out their lawful and legitimate activities in safety.

`"We will now support our partners in the local authorities to ensure that things return to some degree of normality at Balcombe, although I acknowledge that the legacy of the operation will remain with the local community for a long time.''

Kathryn McWhirter, from No Fracking in Balcombe Society, said only up to 60 people remain at the camp, but that protests could re-emerge if the village is earmarked for further plans by Cuadrilla.

She said: "It has not been decided what is going to happen now but all I will say is that the fight is not over. We remain alert and determined to continue our awareness about the dangers of this process.

"There is every intention for protests to spring back up and every intention to help people in other parts of the country where fracking is mooted or pending."

Protestors Callie and Brenda