Link Road Protest

The last remaining protesters camped at the site of a controversial planned road scheme were locked in tunnels and stationed up treehouses in an effort to avoid eviction today.

A handful of activists remain on land being cleared for the £93 million Hastings to Bexhill link road in East Sussex, in a campaign dubbed the "second Battle of Hastings''.

Campaigners have occupied camps within the threatened Combe Haven Valley since December 21 to try to hold up workmen looking to start construction on the 3.4-mile road.

Five protesters - three women and two men aged from 29 to 58 - were arrested yesterday on suspicion of alleged offences including aggravated trespass and obstruction, Sussex Police said.

Today, bailiffs and security guards returned in an effort to remove the last remaining activists, rumoured to number up to 20 on the two remaining camps, according to the Combe Haven Defenders.

They include a seasoned activist known as Simon Sittingbull, 54, who was burrowed in a 15ft hand-dug tunnel and has enough food and water to last around a week.

He was allowed out of the tunnel by security guards last night in a "Christmas truce'' as temperatures plunged, but returned underground before bailiffs arrived this morning, according to his fellow activists.

Combe Haven Defenders spokesman Gabriel Carlyle, 38, from nearby St Leonards, said they were passionate about opposing what they view as the "first and the worst'' of 190 road schemes planned across the country.

He said: "We see this as only the end of the beginning of a much larger campaign that is going to go on for some time.

"In the 1990s there was a popular uprising against road building, and I think we could see a repeat of that.

"We are going to continue to do our level best at every stage. We will confine ourselves to peaceful protest but while the road isn't built, it isn't built.''

Mr Carlyle said legal moves were being prepared to halt the road building programme by raising questions over whether the valley was the site of the Battle of Hastings.

Campaigners have said the Hastings to Bexhill link road will rob the area of its wildlife and not deliver regeneration.

Supporters of the road, including East Sussex County Council and local business leaders, insist the road is vital to boost the poorest economy in the South East.

County council leader Peter Jones has said it will enable the building of up to 2,000 new homes, 50,000 square metres of business park space and create more than 3,000 jobs, as well as bringing economic benefits worth £1 billion.

It is also claimed that the road, which will link the outskirts of Bexhill and Hastings, will ease congestion and improve air quality on the busy A259 at Glyne Gap.

Update at 14.30 - Friday

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said the last remaining protesters have been evicted from the base camp, which has been ringed with fencing.

A number remain at a second camp nearby, known as Decoy Pond.

The council spokesman said: "This morning's operation was successful and it achieved the objective.

"We are working according to our plans and the preparatory works are still within our schedule.

Mr Carlyle said there were still a number of activists, estimated to be between 15 and 20, holding out at Decoy Pond.

He said: "We know that we can only delay what's going on. However, there are other things going on in the background, such as moves to try to reopen the question on where the Battle of Hastings was fought.

"How much of a chance that stands we don't know, but, by raising the cost of this road building project through our protests, we can have a big impact on subsequent road projects.

"We know that historically there are political and economic costs that can be impacted by this type of protest.''