Road Wars - SQUALL'S road protest round up and down the country
No M77 Battle Hots Up In Scotland
Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995, pg. 16.
Road protesters at the self- proclaimed ‘Free State of Pollok’ in Scotland, were confronted by a foaming MP at the beginning of February, when Allen Stewart, Scottish Industry Junior Minister and Con MP for Eastwood, threatened protesters with a pick-axe.
The Minister turned up at the protesters' second encampment at Newton Means with seven other people, including Dan Pollard - head of Wimpey Construction, demanding a guided tour of the site.
“He arrived at the camp at about four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and had obviously been drinking, you could smell it on his breath,” says Lindsay Keenan, one of the protesters at the brunt end of the minister’s drunken wrath. They came along purely to intimidate us, screaming and balling at everyone. Then he started to push me around.” Allen Stewart then snatched up a pick axe, threatening Lindsay with the words “There’s a lot you can do with a pick-axe”.
After declaring his innocence, and stressing that his actions were purely in self-defence, Stewart resigned two days later having discussed the matter with his family. What was not widely reported was that Stewart’s son and a friend, were also at the scene that day. After an impromptu search by police, they were found to be in possession of loaded air pistols. Stewart senior and junior now face investigation and possible charges. Lindsay Keenan and Lewis McCallum, another protester, have vowed to take out private suits against Stewart if the authorities decide against prosecution.
At the beginning of February, a tip- off to protesters from an source at Wimpey - the main contractors on the M77 site, led to the discovery that three tree-cutters had chopped down around 300 trees in a secluded area along the route. This led to the setting up of a second camp at Newton Means in order to prevent further treecutting. Over 1000 trees have so far been lost.
Actions are, as SQUALL goes to press, occurring every day, with up to 200 protesters padlocking themselves to machinery, trees, workers (!), vans and chain-saws. An increasingly popular action at Pollok is ‘tree-spiking’; a process used in Australia to prevent the logging of rainforests which involves driving six inch nails into the condemned trees, in an effort to thwart the chain-saws. Spiking trees with dozens of nails does not harm them but renders their trunks almost immune to the chain-saws. Although Wimpey’s progress has been severely hindered, the sheer number of trees, coupled with the finite resources of the campaigners, has meant that trees are still being felled.
When the protest camps were originally set up, relations with the local police and security were amicable enough; each side recognising that the other had a job to do. But, as Wimpey have become more desperate to complete the work, relations have deteriorated rapidly.
“The atmosphere between police, security and protesters is well past the cup of tea stage,” says Dani King, a campaigner on site. “Things are getting heavier day by day,” adds Lindsay Keenan.
The M77 contract makes roadbuilding history as the first of its kind to incorporate the cost of disruption by protesters. As a result of vehement local protest, the construction costs will almost certainly go over budget. With Wimpey footing the bill for protesters’ obstructions, be prepared to see security actions in excess of those witnessed before on other anti-road campaigns.
A support action in solidarity with Pollok campaigners saw 12 anti-roads protesters occupy a Wimpey crane in the centre of Manchester at the beginning of February. The occupation lasted three days and the protesters only came down after security guards lit fires beneath the crane. Three of the protesters were arrested and charged with malicious mischief and breach of the peace.
A few days later back at Pollok, three Earth First! members were arrested after pouring concrete into a security guard compound. Jake Hunter and Paul Murphy, two of the three, declined to accept the bail conditions of staying away from the Pollok Free State and Wimpey Sites, and are now in Barlinnie Prison. Their next bail appearance is on February 27. Protesters are planning a campaign to publicise their plight and, as Dani says: “The policy of bail conditions that depend on not protesting, is obviously a tactic designed to keep anti-roads protesters out of the way.”
Members of the No M77 campaign, which Earth First! say will be “the largest campaign of civil disobedience an environmental issue has ever seen in Scotland”, believe that “what happens at Pollok Estate will affect the future of environmental preservation in Scotland”.
The M77, which has a history of opposition since the ’60s, will thunder its way through 1,018 acres of the largest stretch of green-belt land around Glasgow, carrying an estimated 53,000 vehicles by the year 2007. The main permanent protester’s camp situated on its proposed route has been described by Tim of Road Alert as the ‘’most welcoming camp I have ever been to.”
The STARR Alliance, an amalgamation of local community and environmental groups, have offered an alternative strategy entitled: ‘Instead of the Ayr Road Route’. Published last August, the report was banned from libraries in the area ,despite the fact that three Glasgow MPs had signed documents in favour of the strategy.
The vehemence of opposition to the M77 has been fired by the fact that the area is supposed to be protected. In 1939, a conservation agreement, the first of its kind in Scotland, was drawn up to provide a guaranteed protection of the area. At the time, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) declared that: “The said lands should remain forever as open space or woodlands for the enhancement of the beauty of the neighbourhood and, so far as possible, for the benefit of the citizens of Glasgow.”
In 1974, this agreement was “reluctantly waived” by the NTS, in what seems to have been a pressured backtrack.
Up to now, no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has not been carried out on the proposed route and, in a letter to Friends of the Earth from a member of the Cabinet of the European Commission, “should have been carried out before the Secretary of State gave development consent”. The Scottish National Trust state in a letter to Strathclyde Regional Council, that they believe an EIA should be carried out and that the council should seriously consider alternatives as a part of the EIA.
A march against the M77 is planned for February 25. Beginning at noon, it will head from St. George Square in the centre of Glasgow, to Pollok Free State on the edge of city. The march will be followed by an action and a party.
Road Wars - SQUALL's road protest round up and down the country - other stories from this issue - Policy Shift or Shifty Policy? / A30 Honiton-Exeter on the back burner / The Third Battle of Newbury pitched against vested interests / No M65 Campaign - Up in the air and facing the flak.
For a menu of many other Squall articles about the Anti-Roads Movement, including protest camps, Reclaim The Streets and more click here