SQUALL'S road protest round up and down the country
Squall 9, Winter Jan/Feb 1995, pp. 16-17.
No M77 Battle Hots Up In Scotland
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.
Policy Shift Or Shifty Policy?
Last year saw the government starting to reconsider its road-building programme, with public opinion swinging away from tarmac and towards the environment.
The catalytic conversion of government policy has been further induced by the publication of two major reports. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report, published last October, stated what every one already knew; that car pollution is bad for our health. The second, and even more damning report was from the Transport Department’s Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (Sactra), published in December.
The Secretary of State for Transport, Brian Mawhinney, has unveiled plans to reduce this years’ spending on roads from £2 to £1.7 billion. Environmental groups have heralded this as a long overdue concession to a growing public concern.
British motorists drive the highest yearly car mileage in Europe, while public transport usage is one of the lowest. Of course, this fact cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the British public as it has been the subject of much ‘political encouragement’. It was Thatcher herself who, in the early eighties, coined the phrase “the great car economy”, as one of her ‘visions’ of a future Britain.
Public transport is a fundamental component of British infrastructure and suffers as an affordable, accessible system of transport, when left to the private sector. Already, public investment in rail transport in Britain is amongst the lowest in Europe.
Moreover, the streamlining (cutbacks) and fragmentation of the rail network into bite sized portions in preparation for rail privatisation, will make it difficult for future planners to co-ordinate expansions in the system. This is aside from making it more difficult and expensive for the public to travel by rail.
The most condemning aspect of the Sactra report is the conclusion that building more roads does not alleviate transport congestion but, in many cases, seriously exacerbates the problem by encouraging more car use.
The findings of the 242 page report were made available to erstwhile transport minister, John MacGregor, in May 1994. His decision to shelve the report may be attributed to his staunch defence of the £2 billion-a-year programme and has angered many environmental campaigners who believe that its findings could have influenced the many public enquiries into road developments that have taken place since then.
Mr MacGregor’s departure from the transport post, and Dr Mawhinney’s installation last Autumn, would seem to have been in preparation for such an apparent change in Government policy. Indeed, Dr Mawhinney is keen to stress his ‘green credentials’ and is reported to be setting up an environmental policy unit in order to co-ordinate the environmental assessment and planning of the road building programme. The new unit is billed as being accessible to anti-roads campaigners, environmental groups, statutory bodies and other lobbying groups; time, of course, will tell on that score. An announcement is expected in February or March.
The DoT still has a large portion of its initially planned ten-year, £23 billion commitment to road projects yet to spend. The shelving of a few of the more visibly embarrassing projects cannot be claimed as proving the new transport minister’s ‘green credentials’. The consciousness of Britain has been woken up to the environmental destruction caused by more roads through the dedicated efforts of anti- roads campaigners. But there is a very real danger that the converted middle Englanders will be swiftly anaesthetised once more by false promises coming from a Government, highly dependant on the road lobby, and an economy highly dependant on the motor industry.
A30 Honiton-Exeter - On The Back Burner
One of Dr. Mawhinney’s postponed routes is the A30 Honiton-Exeter ‘improvement’ which, like the Newbury by-pass, would form part of a euro-route, dubbed the ‘motorway by stealth’.
During the public inquiry, the road was presented as a local scheme, for local traffic. After the postponement was announced, it was immediately referred to as a private-funded DBFO road (design, build, finance and operate).
DBFOs operate with private consortia building and paying for the construction and maintenance of the road for a fixed period (up to 25 years). The consortia recoup their money in the form of "shadow tolls" - the DoT will pay them years after the roads have been completed according to the volume of traffic using the road. Thus the roads will get built now but the DoT, and hence the taxpayer, will be getting the bill years later. The consortia are generally alliances of the biggest construction firms with banks and consultants - a number of Conservative MPs and ex-ministers who have Directorships in these ad-hoc alliances.
The A30 Honiton - Exeter route, with virtually all it’s clearance work completed, was due to start construction on the main contract in about three months. There are currently two bender camps on the proposed route, which campaigners fear will be cleared in two to three months time, despite the DoT suspension of operations. Exactly what the future holds is unclear. There appears to be nothing to stop the Government shifting responsibility to the private sector and then claiming non-involvement when the work starts again.
Actions against the A30 continue and the main protesters’ camp is currently at Fairmile, near the Honiton end of the route.
The Third Battle Of Newbury Pitched Against Vested Interests
The six lane, £66 million Newbury by-pass, with its linked £24 million junction, is a significant proportion of Brian Mawhinney’s £300 million saving on this year’s road budget. Put on hold for a year, Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth believes that “The political embarrassment of another Twyford Down was too much” and “would have made Twyford Down look like a dress rehearsal”.
The campaign against the road, known as the ‘Third Battle of Newbury’ has gained support from many professional bodies and people, including a powerful lobbying force from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
The planned route (and remember - it has only been put on hold for a year) will destroy 12 miles of unspoilt countryside, including up to six Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The postponement of the road has provoked a ferocious response from the pro-road contingency. This group who imaginatively call themselves ‘By- Pass Now’ includes David Rendell (Lib-Dem MP), Lord Caernarvon (who lives in Hampshire - Newbury is in Berkshire), and a number of business people including Sir Gerald Whent, the head of Vodaphone (recently prosecuted for speeding at 45 mph in a 30 mph zone. “My speed was safe and my means were adequate,” he said in his defence).
At a meeting of Newbury District Council, a motion was passed to donate £8,000 (of tax-payers' money) to By-Pass Now. One member of the council, some of whose land had been compulsory purchased by the DoT for the project, was not allowed to speak or vote on the issue because he had ‘a financial interest in the matter’ - he is opposed to the road. By- Pass Now have a meeting with Brian Mawhinney on the February 15. It is suggested that the ease with which a relatively small campaign group have got access to Dr. Mawhinney ears, is more a little connected to the fact that an MP and a Lord are among its members.
The Third Battle of Newbury are currently drafting a report to the District Auditor regarding the legal aspects of public money being donated to By- Pass Now. By-Pass Now are solely concerned with the financial benefits that a new road would bring. “The whole thing is not about relieving traffic congestion. It’s about money and profits, particularly for the businesses involved in By-Pass Now,” says Letty, one of the protesters at the site.
No M65 Campaign - Up In The Air And Facing The Flak
Stanworth Valley in Lancashire is now the site of the biggest ‘sky village’ in Europe. Seventeen tree houses interconnected by aerial walkways, some of which are 60ft in the air. Not far away is another camp set up on Holebottom Wood, one of three connected stretches of woods that together form the largest piece of ancient woodland in Lancashire. Both encampments stand in the way of an M65 extension, and are packed with environmental protesters determined to prevent Amec construction from carrying out their destruction.
“The Campaign is hotting up, we are reaching the eleventh hour,” says Larch, one of the No M65 protesters.
Several protesters that have also been squatting six cottages in the proposed path of an M65 slip road, since last December. They have a court date in mid- February and are expecting the bailiffs around the end of the same month.
“We’ve got about twenty lock-ons, bunkers and major reinforcements,” continues Larch. “It’s like a mini war- zone.”
The determination, as well as the methods of preparation, are similar to those cultivated at Claremont.
“The occupation of these homes will send a clear message to the Government that we shall defend Lancashire from the bulldozer to the last house and the last blade of grass and beyond,” promises Hyper, another of the No M65 protesters.
The proposed twelve mile route will destroy over 50 homes, as well as steep-wooded valleys, woodlands and other wildlife habitats. It will also pass within yards of local schools.
The Department of Transport are currently in the process of seeking an eviction order against the tree-dwellers. The best that a Blackburn councillor could come up with to explain the necessity for more environmental destruction was that “it will attract industry and improve the quality of life”. High levels of unemployment have made the demand for jobs a major issue. To address this demand, interest should be directed towards creating sustainable employment; not just levering an environmentally-destructive preagenda with the quick dangle of a shortterm job carrot. Meanwhile, the protesters at the No M65 encampments find themselves far from unemployed as they prepare to defend their woodland position against the bulldozers and bureaucrats, set to arrive in drove in the coming months.
ROAD-HOUSE BLUES - The largest Road and Housing protest in Europe erupts in Wanstonia, NE London, to fight the M11 Link Rd - Squall 6, Spring 1994.
ROAD WARS (Squall 7) - spotlight on the battle for Solsbury Hill - Squall 7, Summer 1994
ROAD WARS (Squall 8) - Nationwide round-up of road protests including: Solsbury Hill, Stanworth Valley, Newbury, Pollock, and Cardiff Bay - Squall 8, Autumn 1994.