Road Wars: Solsbury Hill
Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 19.
Having publicly announced a reduction in the road-building programme, the DoT have attempted to persuade the general public that it is aware of environmental issues but, when the bulldozers come to your town, who will be there to stop them?
Solsbury Hill looks set to become the Twyford Down of 1994 and, given the Government's record of lies and misinformation, who believes the DoT anyway?
Climbing up on Solsbury Hill, I could see the city lights. I could also see scars in the surrounding countryside belonging to a road scheme that has become a centre of controversy matching those at Twyford Down and the M11.
The Batheaston/Swainswick bypass has been long awaited. Road traffic is currently turning these villages into no-go areas for children. There are few people who would dispute the need to reduce the volume of traffic but the bypass has been implemented without due consideration for the local environment and with a veil of bureaucracy and misinformation that is earning the DoT an unenviable reputation.
The bypass threatens to slice through Little Solsbury Hill - the same hill celebrated by Peter Gabriel - on the outskirts of Bath. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the Iron Age hill fort at its summit is a scheduled ancient monument. Added to this is an abundance of wildlife, badgers, hawks, flora and fauna that live, not only on the hill but also in the threatened watermeadows.
Amey Construction are the DoT contractors for the operation. They began work on March 14th and by June 10th, had completed a site compound and begun earth- moving in the surrounding watermeadows. Excavation has now also begun on the slopes of the hill itself but there is determined opposition to the road building programme; land and trees are being squatted and machinery is being occupied in efforts to thwart and delay the road scheme.
The Save Our Solsbury (SOS) campaign, also working as the Solsbury Hill Action Group (SHAG) have been working against the road scheme for four months. Growing media interest and local support for the campaign has raised the profile of this issue to a national level. Dongas and other veteran anti-roads campaigners have joined SOS at the site, as have squatting campaigners from nearby Bristol. These groups, combined with growing numbers of local residents willing to become involved in non-violent direct action (NVDA), have been squatting houses due for demolition, sitting in trees, locking themselves on to machinery and holding marches through Bath.
Tania de St Croix, one of the founder members of SOS, puts support at anything up to 150 people for direct actions and, on Sunday 7th June, 1,500 people turned out for a day of protest walks over the hill and through the construction site. Robert Key, minister responsible for the operation, has been quoted describing protesters as “rent-a-mob”, his ill-informed utterances have only served to anger residents of Britain's only World Heritage City.
“It’s a very empowering experience for people to come and get involved,” said Tania. “When local voters get involved in protests of this nature it becomes very hard for the Government to ignore. It’s one of the few things they have to listen to. The Criminal Justice Bill may well change all that.”
On May 3rd, after a very successful and enjoyable Beltane gathering held on the hill, the DoT evicted all of the squatted properties and most of the occupied land. Tree sitters were smoked out with toxic fumes from blazing tyres and, after a day that saw 42 arrests, the DoT managed to reclaim, gravel and destroy a substantial part of the watermeadows. More land at the northern end of the roadworks has been squatted and a caravan now serves as the SOS site office. A collection of benders, tents and a tepee provide living space for those permanently on site. Further up the hill another bender camp-site is surrounded by tree-houses awaiting the day when they will be occupied against the onslaught of bulldozers, cherry-pickers and security guards.
In November 1993, a leaked DoT/DoE document cited the bypass as part of the Southampton/South Wales “strategic route” and, after an expose of previously undisclosed material, it is now widely accepted as likely to form a part of the Dijon to Belfast Euroroute - one of a number of highly controversial euroroute road schemes.
For a menu of many other Squall articles about the Anti-Roads Movement, including protest camps, Reclaim The Streets and more click here