St Albans Clock Tower crossing closed off for more than four hours in youth activist protest

The youth activists have set up camp at the Clock Tower, St Albans. Photo: Laura Bill

The youth activists have set up camp at the Clock Tower, St Albans. Photo: Laura Bill - Credit: Archant

A group of youth activists protested outside the Clock Tower in St Albans this weekend about climate change – bringing the road to a standstill for more than four hours.

At 12.30pm on Sunday approximately 15 people took over the crossing area holding banners which they tied to the lights on one side of High Street and the bollards the other side to obstruct the road so traffic could not get through.

Protestor Ben Clark of The UK Student Climate Network said: "As part of their role, the police said that this is a wilful obstruction of the highway and then asked us to move. We refused to move. The police took video footage of us to collect evidence while we stayed on the road painting signs to raise awareness about the climate crisis.

"Due to the police presence a few people felt nervous during the initial takeover of the road. However, when my friend started drumming the atmosphere livened up and people were marvelling at what we had achieved. The police gave us an hour to move and said if we did not move we would be arrested.

"I had a great time and I think everyone really enjoyed it. We were peaceful and we got our message across - which is all we wanted to do."

Ben said he felt that the message that young people are angry about climate issues was clear and that he is glad that St Albans City & District Council is now aware that young people are prepared to make a stand.

Referring to the district council declaring a climate emergency earlier this year, Ben added that he believes not enough has been done to remedy the situation.

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In response, Cllr Chris White, leader of the district council, said: "We declared a climate change emergency which had a lot in it. Any suggestion that we are not doing enough, I find incredible.

"We are trying to get rid of single-use plastic in the council and beyond, looking at more ways of protecting the environment, our recycling rates are virtually the best in the county and we are also putting in more electric vehicle charging points."

The teenagers involved in the protest belonged to a range of climate activist organisations including Climate Unity Herts, The UK Student Climate Network Herts and Extinction Rebellion Youth, with support from Teen Voice UK.

Co-founder of Teen Voice UK, Josh Dean, said: "It's a pleasure to support such an important campaign - Teen Voice UK is dedicated to empowering young people and making their voices heard. Climate change will affect our generation as we become adults and it's vital that we are heard on this issue."

People took to social media to share their views. Some residents were fully supportive of the demonstration.

St Albans resident Isabel Lydall said: "Good on them! It's their future at stake - totally supportive and hope they manage to get some changes made to the system. Devastating that they're in the position where they have to take to the streets."

Jamie Dimock said: "Good. Hopefully they will not cause too much carnage, but this is important that these issues are addressed publicly and frequently."

However, others disagreed such as Gill Clark: "Sadly this interferes with the enjoyment of ordinary tourists!"

John Allen did not think there was much to complain about. He said: "I popped up there and had a look... a few well meaning kids, parents, a couple of OAPs waving cardboard signs on the pelican crossing, two straw bales and a plastic drum kit."

Eve Tobias raised an interesting point. She said: "I wonder if they drove to St Albans. Just curious as to how they travel and live their lives outside of these protests, as some (not all) are hypocrites. It is good that they want to make changes, but I think a lot of people jump on the bandwagon as they like the drama of it all."

Regarding the police's involvement, St Albans safer neighbourhood inspector Andy Wiseman said: "In a need to facilitate a peaceful protest we had community officers and trained protest liaison officers working with the protesters.

"We had pre-agreed diversion points with Herts County Council to minimise disruption to traffic and only had to partially use one.

"We worked together with St Albans City & District Council, the county council, fire and ambulance.

"It was a peaceful protest."