The battle between anti-frackers and frackers over the future of a protest camp on the outskirts of Chester is hotting up with predictions of a possible violent ending.
Campaigners established the camp in a field off Duttons Lane, Upton, in 2014 to prevent an energy firm drilling a coal bed methane borehole fearing it could lead to the controversial extraction method known as fracking.
But there were recent clashes when warning notices were issued by Dart Energy and IGas requesting campaigners leave the camp because they were trespassing. A 29-year-old man was arrested and charged on suspicion of assaulting an enforcement officer.
Now a formal eviction notice is being sought with a High Court hearing due to take place at Manchester County Court next Friday (November 6) where a demonstration will be held outside with banners and placards.
The action has been brought by farmers Tim and Piers Dutton, the freehold owners of the land, along with Dart Energy (West England) Ltd and IGas Energy Plc who are now the leaseholders.
Kevin Lee, a partner in law firm Hill Dickinson, who represents the claimants, anticipates trouble at the camp once proceedings are served because he expects protester numbers to swell as calls for support go out on social media.
In other cases there had been ‘substantial disturbance’ in attempting to disrupt papers being served or resisting enforcement officers.
He wrote: “No matter how well-intentioned and peaceful some members of the protesters are, experience shows that when carrying out evictions of a potentially large number of protesters, there is a real and serious risk that persons involved, either the trespassers or others, or members of the public, will be injured.
“Enforcement always requires the attendance of the police, often in not insubstantial numbers, including senior officers and a significant number of High Court enforcement officers and can often take a number of days to complete. This is always at substantial expense to not only the landowner but also the public purse.”
Mr Lee wrote in a witness statement that the ‘trespassers’ had openly stated their intention to ‘remain in unlawful occupation’. He cited a Facebook posting which stated: “We are heading towards winter now, they have until the end of May 2016 to make their move, we are planning to move nowhere..but we need YOUR support, YOUR presence to help get us there. We need people to visit, help out and stop over on the camp.”
The lawyer recalled a history of ‘unlawful occupation of land’ in the vicinity of anticipated exploratory drilling sites by IGas. He explained that campaigners were well-organised with a recent shout-out on social media for reinforcements after warning notices were issued being shared 29 times within 17 minutes of the posting.
And he mentioned another recent incident attended by police when protesters blocked contractors carrying out seismic testing from leaving a nearby field.
IGas is scouring the country looking for methane in the underground layers of coal and shale but the potential extraction method, known as fracking, is particularly controversial. Campaigners fear air and water pollution as well as earthquakes and worry it will delay the switch to renewables like solar and wind power.
Frack Free Upton is asking supporters to demonstrate peacefully outside next Friday’s court hearing and write letters backing the camp addressed to the judge.
A spokesperson said: “Upton Community Protection Camp has occupied the land at Duttons Lane since 5th April 2014 and has prevented IGas from drilling a coal bed methane exploratory well, in accordance with the planning permission, since then.
“Updated figures from the Frack Free Upton Street Survey show that out of over 2,800 Upton residents surveyed, 85% do not want unconventional gas exploration or extraction in Upton. IGas have no social licence to drill so close to our community and schools. The closest houses are only 500m from the site and there are eight schools with over 3,200 pupils in total within one mile of the site.”
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