Balcombe fracking protests: 'Apology' letter criticised

Protesters against oil exploration in West Sussex say they are gaining hearts and minds even though drilling has begun.

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Villagers living near an oil exploration site in Sussex have accused the local authority of appearing to take sides over the demonstrations.

Balcombe resident Suzie Horne said she was furious the county council had sent a letter apologising for the disruption caused by protesters.

West Sussex County Council said it was just trying to reassure residents.

The demonstration in Balcombe is now in its 12th day but energy firm Cuadrilla began drilling at the site on Friday.

Campaigners fear the tests could lead to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

'No inconvenience'

Council leader Louise Goldsmith has sent letters to residents that read: "I am very sorry for the disruption that you have experience over the past couple of weeks from protesters at Lower Stumble Wood.

"Here at West Sussex Council Council, the interests of our residents are our primary concern and I am keen to ensure that we support you as much as we can during this challenging time."

It also states Cuadrilla have planning permission for temporary use of the site for a "hydrocarban exploratory borehole" but do not have approval for fracking.

Suzie Horne Suzie Horne said she was livid about the county council's letter to residents

Mrs Horne said: "I'm livid about it. How can somebody from West Sussex County Council presume to apologise for something that many, many Balcombe residents are supporting?

"These people are supposed to be looking after our interests in Balcombe and representing what we think about this and it seems to be that they're representing the interests of this industry that is on our doorstep.

"It's going to go across the whole of Sussex and much, much further. I'm furious about it and I'm not the only one."

She added: "We need to know on what basis are the county council making this apology.

"I have had no inconvenience from these people who are here. A lot of these people are very local.

"There are people down from Balcombe here everyday so don't listen to anyone who tells you it is just people coming in from outside because it isn't."

'Minimise disruption'

A spokesman West Sussex County Council said: "We know that there are differing views among residents regarding the protest at Lower Stumble Wood. It is not for us to pass judgement as to the validity of that protest.

"Our intention in writing to those living closest to the site was to provide reassurance that we are ensuring compliance with the terms of the planning permission and working with other authorities to minimise disruption.

"Furthermore, given the wide range of views on this issue we wanted to assure residents that they will be able to express those views should there be any possibility of fracking at the site in the future."

More than 30 people have been arrested since last Friday, mainly on suspicion of obstructing deliveries, including the daughter of Kinks star Ray Davies and Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Hynde.

Cuadrilla has said it would need fresh permission to carry out fracking.

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