XR intend to blockade the road 24/7 until next SundayStephanie Stacey

A sea of haybales, banners and brightly coloured flags covers the roundabout between Trumpington Road and the Fen Causeway, as Extinction Rebellion (XR) begin their week-long blockade of the intersection. 

Dissatisfied with the responses of various local organisations to their demands, XR Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge intend to “bring the city to a halt” with their  roadblock. Although the group has affirmed that pedestrians and cyclists will be able to pass freely through this roadblock, they intend to prevent all vehicles travelling to and from the city centre via Trumpington Road and the Fen Causeway. 

It is likely that this protest will cause major traffic disruption within the city. 

The group began their blockade shortly before 9am this morning. At present, around 70 XR activists form three separate barriers blocking off the intersection, and they expect many more climate activists to join them in the coming week. Some carry banners, bearing climate slogans, while a smaller group play drums. 

On New Year’s Day, the climate activist group called on several prominent Cambridge institutions to take further action on climate change. They demanded that the University cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry, that the City Council hold a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Justice, and that the County Council work to provide a plan to transition away from an “inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels”. 

The location of their present roadblock was specifically chosen to target these three institutions. 

Since issuing their demands at the beginning of the year, the group has engaged in a series of non-violent protest actions, culminating in this week’s roadblock. Set to be their largest-scale demonstration in Cambridge to date, XR intend to maintain their roadblock until Sunday 26th February, unless their demands are met in the coming days.

They will also organise numerous satellite protests at various locations across the city throughout the week.

The group have used haybales to help form their blockadesStephanie Stacey

Although the University have affirmed that they presently hold “no direct investments in fossil fuels”, XR claim that they “continue to support fossil fuel companies” through indirect investments in fossil fuel industries, and through “research, career support and sponsorship.” 

The University, however, has highlighted the fact that “only 5% of the University’s indirect investments are in the energy sector, and only a portion of these will be in fossil fuel companies”, and noted its membership of the Responsible Investment Network and the creation of the recent Cambridge Zero initiative.

Student climate activist group Cambridge Zero Carbon have previously labelled Cambridge Zero as an example of ‘greenwashing’.  

The group was pleased by the City Council's “willingness” to hold a Citizen's Assembly, a spokesperson said: "We are looking forward to working with them to ensure that this is a robust process which puts real decision-making power into the hands of ordinary people."

"This includes ensuring that any decisions the assembly make are binding, not simply advisory."

Responding to XR’s demands earlier this year, Cambridgeshire County Council affirmed that it “takes the issue of climate and environment very seriously” and listed a series of present and future actions aiming to tackle the climate crisis. They also highlighted their consultation, which closed at the end of January, on the Council’s draft Climate Change and Environment Strategy. 

XR, however, were dissatisfied with their response, with a spokesperson claiming: “At present, the County Council’s consultation aims are not ambitious or radical enough.”

In order to mitigate disruption caused by the roadblock, local police are working with the City and County councils, and have warned that road closures and diversions may be put into place. Superintendent James Sutherland said, “We have to strike a balance between the need to allow peaceful protest within the city and the disruption that the protest itself causes.”

Due to their proximity to XR’s roadblock, both the Engineering department and the Architecture department are closed today, and have issued guidance to students explaining alternative entrances to faculty facilities in light of the anticipated disruption.

XR’s protest has already proven unpopular among numerous residents and commuters. A petition calling for the roadblock to be stopped has, at the time of writing, gathered more than 394 signatures. 

Launched earlier this week by George Owers, the petition calls on the Cambridgeshire constabulary, the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and “all relevant authorities” to “do everything in their power” to remove XR’s “illegal roadblock”.

"We've all spent years, if not decades, signing petitions... and the serious action that needs to be taken hasn't been taken"Stephanie Stacey

The petition states: “The proposed action will have a big negative impact on Cambridge’s residents and goes well beyond the boundaries of acceptable, peaceful, legal protest.”

“Blocking key transport routes, as Extinction Rebellion plans to do, threatens not only the access of disabled people to the city, but also could well cause significant problems for ambulances and other emergency vehicles.”

In a statement, the East of England Ambulance Service has affirmed that they will be working with several other agencies to minimise the impact of the roadblock on their vital services: “We are sharing information with our staff internally to minimise any potential impact and utilise alternative routes if they are needed.”

Speaking to Varsity in response to this petition, an XR spokesperson emphasised the urgency of taking immediate action on climate change, and said: “People supporting this petition should ask themselves why they are so animated about stopping those trying to force action to deal with a planetary crisis. Why direct their ire towards peaceful protesters rather than the criminals causing planetary collapse? 

“Would these people have signed a petition against the suffragettes taking direct action? Against civil rights activists sitting in the road?

The spokesperson continued: “And anyway, petitions don't work. We know. We tried them for 40 years.”

Professor Mary Laven of the Faculty of Early Modern History echoed this, saying that, as evidenced by history: “When people protest peacefully they are often criticised, but posterity usually thanks them for what they’ve done.”

She also argued that the disruption caused by this week’s roadblock will be, in her view, “microscopic” in comparison with the disruption caused by climate change.


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XR blockade BP Institute and hold picnic on King’s lawn ahead of week-long roadblock

Noting the disruptive aspect of the group’s current protest, protestor Amelia Halls emphasised: “We want people to know that we’re not trying to target them. Our focus is on the toxic system that we’re currently living in.”

Although, early on a Sunday morning, the roads blocked off by the group currently remain rather quiet, the group are expecting to meet further “challenges” and “anger” as the week progresses, said one protestor.

Should no progress be made towards meeting their demands following this week-long roadblock, XR have confirmed that they intend to further escalate their protest action in Cambridge.