Protesters vow to prevent new road

Wimbledon Guardian: A road protester known as Simon Sittingbull emerges from a tunnel he has dug at the Combe Haven Defenders camp near Crowhurst, East Sussex A road protester known as Simon Sittingbull emerges from a tunnel he has dug at the Combe Haven Defenders camp near Crowhurst, East Sussex

Protesters involved in an anti-road building campaign dubbed "the second Battle of Hastings" have vowed to dig in their heels amid fears they could be evicted within days.

Up to 30 activists have set up camp in the middle of the East Sussex countryside in an effort to foil construction of the controversial £93 million Hastings to Bexhill link road.

Treehouses and a tunnel have been created at the site by protesters who have endured sub-zero temperatures to hold up workmen looking to start work. People from all walks of life have supported the protest since the camp was set up late last month, including a school governor, a care worker and a keen wildlife photographer.

Among them is former carer Simon Sittingbull, 54, a "nodding acquaintance" of the famed activist known as Swampy who sprang to prominence during environmental protests in the 1990s.

With the help of his son, Mr Sittingbull has dug a 15ft tunnel by hand in the threatened Combe Haven Valley, containing a "lock-on" to make it difficult for bailiffs to remove him. Just outside the tunnel he has set up a relatively comfortable lounging area with a mattress, food and wood, an area where he passes the days chatting to other activists.

Speaking from inside his bolt-hole, the father-of-one said: "I spend all my time here because there is always the threat that a security guard could come and sit in the middle of the tunnel, and then it's game over. I perfected it at Newbury. I've got a bed that's like a futon with a duvet. I can have a comfortable night's sleep here. In other ones, I've had wood burning stoves in them. As long as you've got a good supply of water and wood you can live out here as long as you like."

Twelve people have been arrested during the Hastings to Bexhill link road protests since work started to clear trees and undergrowth last month, and six people have been charged, said Sussex Police.

Despite the threat of arrest, many said it was a risk worth taking to thwart construction of the 3.4-mile link road which they fear will rob the area of its harmony and precious wildlife. Supplies of food, water and warm clothes have been provided on a regular basis by supporters, and a makeshift kitchen has been set up where meals are prepared and eaten.

Supporters of the road, including East Sussex County Council and local business leaders, insist the road is vital to the regeneration of the poorest economy in the South East.

County council leader Peter Jones has said it will enable the building of up to 2,000 new homes, business park space of 50,000 square metres and create more than 3,000 jobs, as well as bring economic benefits worth £1 billion.

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