https://www.kentonline.co.uk/: Kingsnorth Climate camp marks 10th anniversary

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Kingsnorth Climate camp marks 10th anniversary of power station protest

It is 10 years since hundreds of climate change activities set up camp in Medway to protest over plans for a new power station. Jenni Horn, who reported on the events at the time, takes a look back.

After weeks of national debate, heated public meetings and threats of action, a small band of campaigners descended on a farmer’s field in Hoo to set the stage for Camp for Climate Action 2008.

There were just 100 at first but within days the number had swelled to more than 1,000.

It was the third camp of its kind – with Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire being targeted in 2006 and Heathrow the following year.

Activists had chosen the outskirts of this sprawling village because just a few miles away was Kingsnorth Power Station, where plans were afoot for a new government-backed coal fired power station - the first to be built in Britain for 30 years.

Banners go up between the tripods

And environmental campaigners would do anything to show their opposition – and that included breaking the law. They had already proved this 12 months previously when a small group broke into the plant, intent on painting Gordon Bin It down the side of the smoke stack - a message to the then Prime Minister.

Unlike the first protest, which took everyone by surprise, this was planned months ahead – only the exact location was kept a secret.

From the moment the announcement was made that Climate Camp 2008 was targeting Kingsnorth, there were fears raised by locals.

At public meetings with the police, tempers flared as Hoo residents wanted to know what measures would be taken to keep them and their property safe.

But the campaigners’ only target was the power station.

Bail breakers try to enter the camp on Monday afternoon. A protester is arrested by the police. Picture: Barry Crayford (3346562)Media walk around Climate Camp, on Friday morning. Katie Alston, and Jenni Horn talkj to protesters. Picture: Barry Crayford (3346487)

At the end of the week-long protest, there was a day of mass action when they tried, and failed, to shut down the plant. But before that, there was plenty going on at the camp.

The field off Dux Court Road was turned into a tented village with living accommodation, eco-toilets, children’s play areas, cinema and press tent.

Whether you agreed with the activists or not, the inner workings of the camp were fascinating.

The whole site was run on renewable energy with recycled wood-burning stoves for cooking, solar and wind power for the media centre and cinema, and pedal power for the radio station.

Inside the camp there was a family-friendly atmosphere and people could not have been more welcoming to visitors.

Outside was a very different story.

Riot police arrive at the campRiot police prepare to tackle a sit down protest by climate change campaigners at the gates of Kingsnorth power station

To get to the main gate, visitors had to negotiate at least three police checkpoints.

Officers in stab vests and latex gloves questioned and searched all visitors – including local residents, members of the clergy and the press – as a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Those who resisted were arrested, sometimes pinned down, handcuffed and led away to a police van.

It was the actions of the police that became the focus of local and national press coverage – overshadowing the real message of Climate Camp.

By the end of the week, people were not talking about alternatives to coal - instead the headlines were dominated by stories of young children being searched, and items such as bicycle pumps and books being confiscated.

Police chiefs said the extension of their powers to stop and search anyone near the camp was to protect residents, officers and protesters but they were accused of heavy-handedness and there was criticism from MPs that the whole police operation, which cost more than £5m and involved 1,500 officers from 26 forces, undermined civil liberties.

Clean-up of the campPeople leaving the camp

Complaints about the treatment of protesters were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the row over stop-and-search powers made it as far as the High Court, when, almost a year after the camp, Kent Police agreed to compensate three people – including teenage twins – who took legal action against the force.

But in the end, it didn’t matter that the debate about renewable energy was lost in a storm about police tactics. Because it was the recession that killed off Kingsnorth.

Just 14 months after Climate Camp, plans for the new power station were shelved because of a dramatic fall in energy demand.

It spelled the end for the plant. It closed in December 2012 and demolition is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Climate camp facts

  • Kingsnorth Climate Camp ran from August 3-11, 2008
  • The camp was set up in a field off Dux Court Road, near Deangate Ridge sports centre, where the chimney of Kingsnorth Power Station could be seen in the distance
  • More than 200 workshops and debates were held during the camp, including ones with union leader Arthur Scargill and Green MP Caroline Lucas
  • On Saturday, August 9, the protesters attempted to shut down the power station
  • Fifty people were arrested and 123 people involved in a raft regatta were taken off the river
  • On the day of action, more than 1,000 people took part in a rally from the camp to the plant
  • A total of 100 people were arrested during the week-long demo
  • Out these, 46 were charged, mostly with public order offences or obstructing the police.
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