Fracking protest camp demolished

Bailiffs removed activists from Preston New Road site

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Anti-fracking activists in Lancashire were removed from their camp without warning before it was flattened by demolition equipment this week.

A private bailiff company, Able Enforcements, carried out the eviction of activists from squatted land on Preston New Road near Blackpool.

Along with specialists in removing protesters, a team of over 30 bailiffs, security guards and dog handlers entered New Hope community camp, where activists have been living for two-and-a-half years, at 6.30am on 19 November.

The camp included communal living areas, a kitchen and sleeping huts, which residents claim they were dragged from while sleeping and without warning.

Activists complained when one woman was strapped to a body board and removed by four male officers. Able Enforcements said the force was reasonable after the woman refused to leave.

The landowner, Stephen Dennison, had raised concerns about contamination of the land. He was required to ask the camp to leave before taking action, which he said he did but was met with refusal.

“Compassionate people”

Able Enforcements said there was no violence from protesters during the eviction, which took three weeks of planning. The company co-ordinated with police, which supervised the event but made no arrests.

Lauren Gunn is the closest residential neighbour to New Hope. Before landowners built a fence, her back garden joined up with the camp.

“I can’t say anything negative about them – they were always respectful and cheery and often waved to our children and asked how we were,” she told Big Issue North. “They once came round to get water, in freezing conditions, and at the time my boiler had frozen over. Two of them spent a long time doing everything they could to try and get it back on for me. They were compassionate human beings just doing what they believe is right.”

Miranda Cox, a former councillor in neighbouring Kirkham who has opposed fracking since energy firm Cuadrilla began operations in 2017, witnessed the eviction.

“I got there as soon as I could to stand with them. I witnessed massive police numbers, road closures and destruction for destruction’s sake. Huts that were designed to be dismantled without disturbing the land around them were bulldozed with furniture inside. Some belongings were retrieved. The camp’s cats were saved but only after begging and not before the heavy machinery moved in.

Activists in the communal area of the former New Hope camp before demolition. Photo: Claire Griffiths

Fracking halted

“In order to gain access to the site bulldozers just ripped through trees and shrubbery. Solar panels and wind turbines were destroyed. It’s winter, it’s freezing, so the timing is not lost on me. Deliberately making people homeless is not only cruel, it’s a tactic.”

Able operations director Steve Wood said: “We understand that the local community here is against the fracking industry – that’s not our concern. There is a private landlord here who has suffered from the illegal activity of these squatters and it is our job to remove them.”

Dennison said: “The illegal occupation of this land has had a massive impact on what is a small business, run by a family which has owned the land for over 50 years. The company has not only had to employ specialist teams for eviction, but the cost of the clear-up and decontamination of the land is likely to run further into many thousands of pounds.”

The eviction came 17 days after the government announced a moratorium on fracking because of safety concerns. Protesters said they would not leave until fracking was actually banned.

Community support

The camp was built out of recycled and donated materials from the local community. Equipment on site included woodburners, cooking equipment, solar panels and a piano.
Cox helped coordinate places to stay for the activists following the eviction. She said: “The residents are still deciding what to do. They have lost many possessions and their homes and are a bit shell shocked.”

Gunn said: “I was honestly so shocked and completely saddened when I saw their campsite being demolished today. They’ve done Blackpool and the UK a huge favour fighting against fracking.
“We should be showing them gratitude but instead are taking away homes they’ve built up and stayed in for years – homes they’ve cared for and looked after.”

Read more about the last days of New Hope camp and its residents in The New Issue, a new quarterly publication from Big Issue North

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Interact: Responses to Fracking protest camp demolished

  • ..
    22 Nov 2019 13:47
    Camp residents are fighting for all of us...??? Really...??? Many would agree that is a lie and they are fighting against us and here is the evidence proving that... very few in the community stand with them now, the majority want them, their intimidation and violence gone, those few left on the camp are the ones who have intimidated the genuine people away... including many local anti frackers who welcomed them in 2017 to be turned on at the roadside and online... see the truth not the lie with your own eyes...

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