Extinction Rebellion activists scale roof of East Sussex County Council HQ in protest

Activists scaled the offices of East Sussex County Council (ESCC) today (Tuesday, July 9) by climbing onto the roof to demand the authority stops investing people’s pensions in fossil fuels.

Protestors from Extinction Rebellion South East unfurled a banner from the roof of County Hall in Lewes, which read: “ESCC: Which side are you on? Fossil fuels or climate action?”

Activists from campaign group Divest East Sussex (DES) also staged a protest featuring an 'oil monster' and a giant pair of cardboard scissors.

They handed in a letter addressed to county council leader Keith Glazier calling for the council to act.

Divest East Sussex joint coordinator Gabriel Carlyle, 50, from St Leonards, said: “We have written to councillors. We’ve asked to meet with them. We’ve peacefully protested again and again. We’ve lobbied, we’ve pleaded, we’ve begged. None of it has worked. So we’ve decided to be less polite.

“Two years ago, I and other members of Divest East Sussex went on hunger strike over the county council’s continued refusal to divest. At that time, Britain was having its hottest day since records began. The mercury was touching 40 degrees. You couldn’t ask for a clearer warning sign – and yet two years later, here we are again.”

DES and Extinction Rebellion South East (XRSE) said they are demanding that the council stops investing its pension fund in fossil fuel companies.

The East Sussex Pension Fund, which covers Brighton & Hove as well as East Sussex, is administered by East Sussex County Council.

Activists said many councils across East Sussex, including Bexhill Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District and Town Councils, Peacehaven Town Council, Rother District Council, Saleshurst & Robertsbridge Parish Council, are calling for ESCC to divest.

Extinction Rebellion South East campaigner Mark Engineer, 50, said: “This is just the start. There’s more to come if we don’t see meaningful action. We’ll continue to take non-violent direct action against ESCC until they do the right thing and divest.

"If ESCC decides to divest it would be a potential game changer. No Tory-run council has divested its pension pot from fossil fuels, so ESCC has the opportunity to be a leader, and we think others would follow. This small handful of councillors could show true leadership on the most vital issue of our times. Isn’t this what people go into politics for?”

An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm there were protestors on the roof of County Hall earlier this morning, and that they have now come down from the roof of the building. Council business has continued as normal.

“The protestors let off flares during their protest and this incident illustrates why the council has regrettably had to spend money on increasing security for some meetings, for which the council has previously been criticised, to ensure everyone’s safety.”

A spokesperson for the East Sussex Pension Fund said: “East Sussex County Council is designated under legislation for the local administration of the LGPS. The Pension Committee is the delegated decision maker for the fund. The fund’s primary responsibility is to pay pensions to its 85,000 pension scheme members and protection of members’ pensions is paramount.

“The fund invests in line with regulation and only invests indirectly into pooled investment products through investment managers. It does not invest in any company directly. The exposure to oil companies through investment products is 0.4 per cent of fund value. It has a strong focus on responsible investment in its stewardship of assets and takes climate risk and environmental, social and governance factors into account when investing, having removed fossil fuel companies from its equity allocation and reduced the exposure in other parts of the portfolio. Instead, the Fund has a focus on investing in climate solutions, greener revenues, and resource efficiency.”

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