A revolting year around Sussex

seaford stormAs the date changes and the wind rages its time for a traditional list and last year Brighton and beyond was, overall, pretty revolting.  Across the county students, stockbrokers, pensioners and families were all moved to defy ‘authority’ and protest. Here are Brighton Beyond’s top five revolts in Sussex in 2013 – proving that spoilt (and soggy) southern softies can be brave in the face of British weather and rally behind a cause.

1.The Battle of Balcombe

Before this summer who had heard of Balcombe? That annoying extra stop made by slower trains rattling between Brighton and London.  Then Cuadrilla brought their drills. While the purpose of the test drilling was to poke around for oil, the procedure was also an analysis of the suitability of the area for fracking – blowing holes underground to get at gas.  The locals weren’t keen, and the village made global news as it attracted a protest camp and repeated demonstrations.  The only thing that succeeded in holding up the work, however, was a noise complaint. Even an MP, Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion’s representative, was arrested at the site – along with assorted locals and serial objectors. As the saga continues the impact on this once quietly conservative community has been divisive.  More drilling is in prospect so the battle of Balcombe could revive.

2. Saving Newhaven’s Shimmering Sands

Many might say the run down harbour town of Newhaven doesn’t have a huge amount to offer. Residents would disagree – putting up a spirited fight to reclaim as their own a unique piece of our mostly shingle shore – a big sandy beach. Only trouble is the French won’t let the locals use it. Sounds like a Daily Mail headline? It has been. The struggling port, which links Sussex with Normandy, was bought by a french business consortium, who eventually closed the beach to the due to ‘safety fears’.  Town Council and residents have long been lobbying to reclaim the sand for public use – and this long hot summer townsfolk finally lost patience, launching a prolonged assault,  with an army of bucket and spade bearing kids.  Each night ‘pixies’ broke through the barricades allowing families and children access to the shore…. Then men in black would swoop and re-seal the gaps – only for the pixies to pop out and open a new entry. Hopes have recently been raised that access to the sands could be regained, with proposals from councils for a new path on the foreshore – the fight for the right to make sandcastles continues.

3. The Defence of Combe Haven

The defence of Combe Haven, a tranquil  wildlife filled valley and SSSI, commenced as the long contested development of the Bexhill Hastings link road got underway.  In January snow protesters perched in frozen trees, pensioners stood against diggers and grandmothers canoed on the flooded site to demonstrate its unsuitablity for development. Support came from national environmental groups  who descended in droves on this  previously sleepy side of East Sussex, guiding wildlife walks  around the valley, using it as a focus for campaigns against road building.  Arrested protestors are currently in court and apparently making authorities’ heads hurt – they have produced a film to support the cause.

4. Occupy Sussex
Early in 2013 staff and students at Sussex University rallied together in a bid to halt the outsourcing of services at the university to private companies. The proposals raised concerns about the continuing quality of service on campus alongside ideological objections on the grounds that it represents a creep towards the marketisation of higher education.  A seven week occupation of university buildings ended ugly and started a year of unrest.  Lively demonstrations gained national support from politicians and institutions  – with a few resits ensuing. Suspensions of students and ongoing demonstrations mean this dispute will carry on.

5. The Grand Old Elm of Seven Dials

Eco-activism spread to urban Brighton when residents in the Seven Dials neighbourhood  rallied to the defence of an elderly elm, which almost fell to an environmental improvement scheme.  Veterans of the Combe Valley protest occupied the elm, cars and buses were diverted and local politicians  and officials wrangled. Despite being punctured by pins from well wishers’ wishes, the lopsided elm  was saved – and now stands overlooking the completed new road layout – which our local paper reluctantly say might actually be alright.

What next?
There are plenty of plans in train to upset us in Sussex –  the biggest of which could be the proposal for a new market town across a swathe of rural West Sussex, the hint that Gatwick still isn’t excluded from getting another runway and the controversial go-head for a big runway at Lydd (OK its just over the border from Sussex, but we’ll be able to see and hear the holiday jets) – it looks like 2014 could be more revolting still.