Belfast Telegraph

Woodburn Forest row: Protesters ordered to leave Carrickfergus test drilling site or face court

By Nevin Farrell and Jonny Bell

Protesters have been told to leave their camp at Woodburn Forest in Carrickfergus to allow for test drilling for gas and oil.

A permanent protest site has been in place at the site for a number of weeks.

On Tuesday a notice was placed around the site telling the campaigners to leave by 3pm or the company behind the project - InfraStrata - will seek "urgent relief from the court".

Police were on standby inside a council chamber on Monday night as dozens of angry protesters barracked politicians who backed a waste management plan which paved the way for the controversial borehole to search for oil and gas at the scenic County Antrim forest.

Emotions boiled over and verbal abuse was shouted at councillors whose vote leaves the way open for a search well to be drilled looking for oil and gas underneath the forest.

Over 100 protesters from the 'Stop the Drill' campaign swamped the town hall in Ballymena to protest against the plans to look for natural resources at Woodburn Forest close to Woodburn reservoirs.

There was a sizeable police presence but no reports of any violent incidents.

The public gallery was jam-packed and dozens of protesters had to wait outside in the foyer.

As a majority of councillors from Mid and East Antrim Council agreed to give the waste management plan the go-ahead and also rejected calls for an independent survey to be carried out police were on standby in the council chamber as protesters shouted abuse.

Words like "scumbag", "shame" and "disgrace" echoed around the council chamber as vitriol rained down on councillors.

Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy had earlier said the council was not taking a planning decision on the drilling proposal itself as it is classified as a "permitted development" and doesn't need planning approval for an exploratory well.

Instead the councillors were looking at a waste management plan aspect of the scheme.

The Waste Management Plan said the borehole drilling is restricted to four months and "relatively little waste will be generated. The drilling is limited to a test borehole only with no extraction of oil or gas permitted. The site does not contain waste classified as hazardous or contain substances classified as dangerous."

The plan said a number of consultations were taken and and there were no objections from Northern Ireland Environment Agency; NI Water or health and safety chiefs.

The recommendation from council officials to councillors was to back the contents of the waste management plan.

However, a number of councillors spoke in support of the 'Stop the Drill' group drawing applause from the protesters who particularly agreed with UKIP councillor Noel Jordan's call for an independent survey of the Woodburn area to be carried out before the council took a decision.

Councillor John Stewart (UUP) said protesters had "real and genuine concerns" about the risk of contamination of water in a reservoir which serves large centres of population including Belfast, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.

After the meeting, protesters hit out at the Council.

Jennifer McCullough said: "We are all a peaceful lot and that is our strategy because we don't want to give anyone the excuse to say that we are less than able to discuss it intelligently but we were just railroaded. I have never seen the like of this council decision in all my life and I have travelled and met a lot of people.

"That is theft, that is rape, that is rape and pillage of the land and it is organised. It is like somebody just walking in and stealing everything. We are not standing for this. If they are going to steal everything we have got, they don't realise just how dangerous that makes us. That is not a threat but we will fight them all the way, I swear to God."

Another protester, Tim Hedgley, said: "We need a judicial review of the policies and procedures that these people have railroaded right through the democratic process.

"I am outraged that this has taken place. We are the most respectful protesters I have ever seen but yet we had more police officers here tonight than we had in Carrickfergus and these are decent people.

"The ordinary decent people of east Antrim need somebody to stand up for them because the elected representatives are doing absolutely nothing for them."

Campaigners have set up a permanent protest site at Woodburn Forest. Their cause has been supported by Mark Ruffalo, who acted as 'The Hulk' and one of the protesters, Chris Campbell, attended the meeting wearing green face paint to make him look like the film character.

He said: "We got support from Mark Ruffalo who acted 'The Hulk' in Hollywood so I was chosen to be 'The Hulk'. But seriously we are all quite concerned, we all live in the local area, all grew up there.

"We are all concerned, there is no real measurement of the waste and as we all know the waste chemicals will be stored on site. They have no clear plan of action, how they will dispose of them. They are not telling us anything, there has not been as much as a letter has come into our houses about this."

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