Extinction Rebellion plans 24/7 roadblock in Cambridge city centre for half-term
Climate change activists claim they will bring a major route into Cambridge to a standstill during half-term with a full seven days of road blockades.
Extinction Rebellion Cambridge and their youth arm say they are “sorry for the inconvenience” they will cause commuters, shoppers, and residents when they take over the roundabout at Trumpington Street and the Fen Causeway.
They warn they are “confident” the roadblocks will hold up 24 hours a day from Sunday until the following weekend by filling the road with tents, hay bales and even a performance stage.
Tom Dorrington, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the Cambridge Independent: “We have had conversations with the police because it is quite a serious act of civil disobedience, but we are quite confident we can hold the blockade for the whole week.
“It will be a static 24/7 roadblock, mainly people-based, but there will also be some light infrastructure like hay bales and tents in the road. And there will be people on the road during the day and camping there at night.”
The Rebel for Justice event has been planned by Extinction Rebellion Cambridge Youth and is set to take place from February 16 to 23.
The XR Cambridge group says it will hold the week-long roadblock unless its demands are met. Their demands are that:
- The University of Cambridge cuts its ties with the fossil fuel industry
- Cambridge City Council holds a citizens’ assembly on climate justice
- Cambridgeshire County Council works with other relevant regional authorities to provide a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels.
Mr Dorrington added: “We really want to pressure the three institutions to meet our demands. People have been doing climate activism for 30 or 40 years in a traditional way by engaging with politicians and holding marches and it just hasn't worked. Emissions have continued to rise, people have continued to die or be murdered. It's time to move to the civil disobedience phase of activism
“We have met the city council twice and have had a mixed response. They are more than happy to engage with us. It's whether they will meet the demand in the form that we have phrased it. We will continue to campaign until the demand that we have stated has been met.
“The county council has vaguely offered to meet us but nothing has been set in stone.”
He added the group had received “not a word from the university.”
He explained that the targets of the protest were the councils and the university, not the general public and added: “Obviously, for the people we are going to be inconveniencing we are really sorry but we have to remember the scale of what we are facing, where people are suffering all around the world and dying. We are here to do what's necessary. We hope they understand that we are safeguarding a future for them as well.”
Going into more detail about the week-long action, he said: “We are quite confident we will be able to hold that site and that it will become a sort of outreach-based space where people can learn about Extinction Rebellion and attend talks and training. Then the really disruptive actions will take place off site. There will be engaging protests like critical masses and a march or two. But there will also be really disruptive targeted things like we have done with [Cambridge-based oilfield services company] Schlumberger a couple of weeks ago. Actions like that will be happening daily, off site.”
Their plan is to prevent all cars and buses from going through the roadblock, although they would allow space for cyclists to pass.
The activists say they will only call off the blockade if all of their demands are met by February 16.
Mr Dorrington explained: “By that we mean have a credible plan in place on paper for how they would achieve that demand by the end of 2020.
“It’s really important to note this is just the first phase... After the roadblock there will still be highly targeted disruptive actions against the institutions.”
On the impact the blockade is likely to cause on traffic, Mr Dorrington said: "It depends how good the police are at rerouting them, really."
Superintendent James Sutherland, of Cambridgeshire police, said: “The police are aware of plans to block roads during the half-term holiday. We are working closely alongside a number of local agencies to ensure that disruption is minimised. People should expect to be able to go about their lawful business unhindered and our role is to work towards this.
“We are in a challenging position where we will work in partnership to provide a proportionate policing response to the protest, balancing the needs and rights of protesters with those impacted by the protest.”
The city council, which has declared a climate emergency, said it expected the protests to “cause some disruption and traffic congestion” and they asked people visiting central Cambridge to “plan their journeys accordingly”. The council encouraged people to walk, cycle or use public transport where possible.
A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the planned protest by Extinction Rebellion and are working with our partners – including public transport providers - on plans to minimise disruption for people travelling to and around the city. This information will be widely publicised as soon as it is agreed.
“The county council has made a detailed response to XR about the significant work it has done and continues to do to mitigate climate change alone, and with its partners.
“We have met with members of XR and would welcome further discussions with them or any other organisation interested in working with us to reduce the impact of climate change.”
On Saturday, Extinction Rebellion activists held a mass picnic on the lawn at King’s College and some stayed out at night in tents calling on the university to cut all ties to fossil fuel companies.
A day earlier, a group of about 20 targeted the university’s BP Institute on Madingley Rise, with some locking themselves to the building.
Yesterday, a university spokesperson said: "“The University of Cambridge is actively engaged in the global transition to a sustainable future on every front.
“As part of this vital work, the University in November launched Cambridge Zero, an ambitious new initiative that will build on existing research and policy expertise to develop solutions for a zero-carbon future. Cambridge Zero is led by Dr Emily Shuckburgh, one of the UK’s leading climate scientists.
“Cambridge was the first university in the world to announce it had adopted a 1.5 degrees science-based target for carbon reduction, committing itself to reduce its energy-related carbon emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with a steep 75 per cent decrease on 2015 emissions by 2030. The university has also expressed an aspiration to reach zero carbon by 2038.
“The university holds no direct investments in fossil fuels. Only four per cent of the University’s indirect investments are in the energy sector, and a much smaller proportion of these will be in fossil fuel companies.”
More by this authorAlex Spencer