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Extinction Rebellion protest ‘directed at wrong people’ says Cambridgeshire County Council leader

The leader of Cambridgeshire County Council says the Extinction Rebellion protest in Cambridge is “in the wrong place and directed at the wrong people”.

Counccillor Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell
Counccillor Steve Count. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Steve Count said protesters have “repeatedly refused” to “speak sensibly” with the county council and has called for their roadblock to be moved.

“I believe in people’s right to peaceful protest, but not when it disrupts the lives of a hard working community and I have made it clear that I want the protesters to move – or be moved – from the roads that they are currently blocking,” he said.

He added: “I think that this protest is in the wrong place and directed at the wrong people.”

Climate activists took to Trumpington Road and the Fen Causeway, on Sunday (February 16) where they remain around the clock until Sunday February 23.

The action is being led by the group’s youth wing, XR Cambridge Youth, and is part of its Rebel for Justice protest.

Following the launch of the protest, Cambridgeshire police said it had used emergency powers to close a section of Trumpington Road and Fen Causeway, putting in diversions for vehicles and buses.

XR at their road block in Cambridge on the third day. Picture: Keith Heppell. (29546673)
XR at their road block in Cambridge on the third day. Picture: Keith Heppell. (29546673)

Cllr Count said in a statement released on Friday: “First I want to make it clear that the road was closed, and diversions were put in place under police emergency powers. As a result of the police decision my highways teams assisted the police in order to minimise the potential disruption – but we were not happy about being put in the position of having to do this because of these protestors' actions.

“I don’t think it is right for anyone to say that the disruption caused has been minimal.

“I believe that severe disruption has been caused to the people of Cambridge and those who want to visit or work here – which can’t be measured by the data which is being monitored around congestion levels or response times of emergency vehicles.

“What I have heard from many people is that their lives have been disrupted because they have simply felt unable to make journeys in the first place because of the protest, and I have made sure that these concerns have been raised with the police by my senior officers.

“I would ask anyone with evidence of this serious disruption to take it directly to the police so they can act.”

Throughout the week protesters have targeted the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College, oilfield services company Schlumberger, Barclays Bank and disrupted a meeting by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

On Thursday, activists headed to Cambridge’s Eddington development to protest to highlight the link between the housing crisis and the climate and environmental emergency.

The action follows the issuing of three demands from XR Youth Cambridge.

The group warned it would cause major disruption unless three demands are met:

  • The University of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.
  • Cambridge City Council must hold a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Justice.
  • Cambridgeshire County Council must work with other relevant regional authorities to provide a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels

Both the city and county councils have said they are taking action to tackle climate change.

The University of Cambridge has adopted science-based targets for carbon reduction and pledged to reduce its emissions to zero by 2048, while aspiring to be a decade ahead of its decarbonisation pathway, meaning it hopes to achieve zero carbon status by 2038.

The XR road block on Trumpington Street. Picture: Keith Heppell. (29471125)
The XR road block on Trumpington Street. Picture: Keith Heppell. (29471125)

Cllr Count continued: “We have met with members of Extinction Rebellion to talk to them through our programme of carbon reduction measures, which have been acknowledged nationally as putting us at the forefront of this work anywhere in the country.

“Friends of the Earth have highlighted our plans on their website and called them ‘essential reading’ for any authority or activist interested in carbon reduction.

“Just last week in our budget for the coming year we announced a further £16m fund to move further and faster with our carbon reduction plans.

“It also clearly aligns us with our climate commitment to be net carbon zero by 2050, and is backed by robust data and measurements; so we are not just talking about carbon reduction but acting effectively in dealing with this. The level of disruptive actions by Extinction Rebellion and their behaviour will I believe put at risk public support for further positive actions on our part.

“Our door remains open for anyone who wants to talk to us sensibly about what we are doing, but the group who are currently protesting in our city have repeatedly refused this offer.

“I know the police have escalated their action – with arrests being made following the actions on Trinity Green, at the Schlumberger Research Centre, and at Shire Hall on Wednesday – where protesters tried but failed to stop a public and democratic meeting being held.

“I commend this escalation of police action, and I would like to see more of it.”

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