Fracking protest 'scars' Balcombe village

Kathryn McWhirter
Image caption Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter said most villagers support the protest

After a summer of anti-fracking protests in Balcombe many residents have said the village has been left "scarred" and "divided".

It was the destination of choice for environmental protesters and the media over the summer.

The small village in Sussex was home to an exploratory oil drilling operation, which some feared would lead to fracking.

But where there were once hundreds of people and dozens of tents, there is now nothing but a few placards.

The company behind the drilling, Cuadrilla, has submitted a fresh planning application to West Sussex County Council to continue work, which is yet to be validated and put online.

Despite no large-scale demonstrations planned for the Christmas period, protesters have vowed to continue their opposition since there were evicted in November.

According to Alison Stevenson, who is the chairwoman of the parish council, all this has left the village "bitter".

"It has left scars that will be there for a long time," she said.

"It has divided the village into new Balcombe and old Balcombe."

She said the protests, which began in July and resulted in dozens of people being arrested, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, split the village into "three camps".

"There are people who are pro-drilling, people who are anti-drilling and people who we call 'anti-antis', those who are simply opposed to the protesters," she said.

"I believe the 'anti-antis' form the majority of Balcombe residents."

Image caption Caroline Lucas MP was arrested during the protests at Balcombe

This is disputed by Kathryn McWhirter, from the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, who believes most people in the village support the protest.

She said: "Many people in Balcombe have been so politicised by this, people who would never have protested before.

"You see it all around the country, that as soon as a fracking planning application goes in, a protest movement springs up.

"The village is absolutely divided - we put notices up and seconds later they're taken down. We put yellow ribbons on doors and lampposts and you get up in the morning and they've been snipped off.

"It's almost funny - I feel like writing to the producers of The Archers and offering them a script."

Image caption Protesters have said there will be no large scale demonstrations over Christmas

One of those against the protests is Malcolm Thomason, 56, who was born and raised in Balcombe and lives roughly 600m from the drilling site.

"I've done my research on fracking and I believe it is safe," he said.

"I know people who have put anti-fracking posters up in their windows just so they don't upset their neighbours.

"And I've had people that I've known for years, who used to talk to me when you walk past, now just grunt a hello."

The parish council is planning an independent poll of residents to gauge opinions in the new year.

But it is not known whether this will simply expose divisions in the village or go some way to heal the wounds.

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