Sunday, 22 January 2017

Rocks, hard places and the strange in-between bits...

I received an email from a group who have for a long time, tried to slow vehicles carrying live animals in appalling conditions - they risk their lives on busy, dangerous roads in order to disrupt and to gather evidence. They wanted to know how we managed to be slowing vehicles without being attacked or in danger. My reply to them below, I hope will help clarify any confusion here too:
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...this is a tense, strange and unpredictable thing unfolding and each day brings a new challenge... we at the roadside each day on Preston New Road are having to think quick and work together to deal with each thing as it happens. I update each day on the Blog which may offer some insight - but in a nutshell the whole facilitated slow-walk came about like this:

Originally the road was marked as single lane with cones for 9:30am-3pm as per the Traffic Management Plan (TMP) and there was nothing really to deal with until they had been on the site for 4 days (weekend included) and on Day 4 they introduced Harras Fencing - the say now that they did this because of trouble with protesters - which is a lie, trouble didn't come till after the workers dragged the fencing from along the hedge where it had been... toward where the cones marked the road.

Those protecting the area (Protesters = Protectors - at this stage primarily female and retired people)) stood against the fencing but each panel we held had a security guard who shoved hard into our backs - on the final surge they stopped pushing, paused then literally shoved with might... we toppled forward into the path of oncoming traffic in the busy single lane.

Police who made clear that their role was to ensure safety for ALL people in the area (many of our residents' groups have met regularly with the police over the past 6 years and there is a clear understanding here of the situation - unlike elsewhere)... the police intervened but as they were trying to calm the situation - a truck shot past and against the TMP, started reversing down the works lane.

We ran to get behind it and the security guards started pushing the fencing so that they protected their area - but trapped us between fence and reversing truck - terrifying. Police were banging the truck door, security were shouting to stop and we were literally close to serious injury or death. I believe the truck driver was not of sound mind. One Protector who wasn't trapped but could see us, jumped onto the truck and despite a few sharp braking moves, she wasn't shaken off and the police finally halted the crazed driver.

The discussion between all involved at this point (including security guards who had also been at huge risk) concluded that this was deadly dangerous and could not continue. We insisted our right to peacefully protest - they insisted theirs to work. We said we were going to slow-walk regardless and as was shown in all the cases before this (Balcombe/Barton Moss etc) there was no point trying to stop us as the cases all get thrown out and we still keep slowing them. The police spoke to builders who agreed to facilitate this on the next vehicle - I think they wanted to ease the incredible tension and ugliness of the scen; some of our older residents were scared and in pain.

The site area at this stage is literally one-lane wide and about 4 HGVs deep... no space for much of a walk! We said other sites got 90 minutes but in reality, when we'd walked as slow as was humanly possible (so as not to be illegally blocking) - the most we could drag it to was 15 minutes. After this and no idea how it was discussed between the company and police, we were told we could do this for each delivery. We were as surprised as anyone but the idea of getting everything we could at this stage (got a way to go with baseline testing and building before fracking can start) and without attacks on our bodies - was something we seized. There was no 'agreement' made but as the next vehicle came, the fencing was opened for us to pass into the work area.... we are limited by space and HSE limits to number of people in it so were asked to keep our numbers to 15 or so. Although as we discovered recently - the numbers we are, doesn't change the situation ie: 2 of us did it when others were late to arrive.

I believe it all came about because the police had little choice but to let this be... the alternative is not safe and this way is and their only remit is to maintain safety - this is a major road, a 'blue light' route for the most urgent ambulances carrying the dying and unlike all the usual places frack sites are, heavily residential and ridiculously busy.

No deals were made, nothing discussed beyond our insistence that we would slow-walk - the safer alternative to being attacked by fences and angered truck drivers. So maybe it was simply that we made clear that the ONLY safe way is for police to work to allow our way because the alternative is an almost certain accident? Also... after 6 years of local action, they know we aren't going away.

We have to cross over from our position demonstrating, in order to go into the fenced area for the walk, which means waiting for the temporary traffic lights to change and if wheelchair users or the elderly are with us, then we need to help them over too. Time drags and Cuadrilla are behind schedule and growing frustrated and a bit humiliated at having Protectors dancing in their work area... we continue to be astounded too that this change of way has happened. The company had planned for 20+ trucks per day but have not got more that 8 in yet and we were on working day 13 on Friday.

Things will have to change by necessity when the single lane area eventually goes after the new road entrance to the site is completed... but even then - the plans show a public footpath crosses their entrance so there are opportunities still to maintain disruption and of course we are not the only Protectors working to stop this.... others have made a start on stopping vehicles leaving their point of origin, a communications blockade is organised to disrupt Cuadrilla and those that supply them and we know that if we don't delay enough to make investors withdraw (Cuadrilla in huge financial difficulty after producing nothing for 6 years) that we can and will call for 'A Bentley' (larger groups have offered to support this)... a Bentley is massive blockade that will stop them completely from doing any work. We cannot call for this too soon though as in order to be effective and lasting, we would need the timing to be right.

So each day we arrive and enter the fenced area to slow them - is indeed an odd and curious thing. We though are seizing the moments and opportunities to work on hearts and minds and to weave ourselves as Protectors - into a strong, united force that can handle changes to come.

Hope this helps xxx