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UK Road Protest up to 1997

Key Protests

In 1996, the year which marked 100 years of the car, anti-roads campaigner Emma Must won the 'Goldman Environmental Prize', & road spending in the UK was slashed by four billion pounds. 77 planned roads were withdrawn completely, with many others reassessed.

"Civil disobedience on the ground of conscience is an honourable tradition in this country & those who take part in it may well be vindicated by history"

So said Lord Justice Hoffman during an appeal by Twyford Down protesters.

Background

The core of the movement is radical/counter-cultural, & has a much broader agenda than just stopping a road being built. For campaigners who are anti-consumerism, anarchist, & often influenced by Deep Ecology & earth-centred 'Pagan' spirituality, road building became a symbol of all that's wrong with our culture. The movement has come to embrace health, pollution, human rights, land rights, big business & the power of the law itself. The process began with the campaign against the 'Criminal Justice Bill', which united anti-road protesters, animal rights activists, Trade Unionists, football supporters, ravers, ramblers, squatters, & others. Meanwhile, the activities of 'Shell' in Nigeria catalysed the road protest movement into greater involvement with human rights issues.

Reclaim The Streets has always had a range of related aims formed alliances with the Liverpool dockers. The flowering of that allaince was the 100 Days of Protest campaign, which brought together apparently diverse issues which are all related to the power of the oil industry; pollution, climate change, the destruction & oppression of the Ogoni people, road building, car culture, oil slicks, etc. etc. But perhaps it has always been "a single issue campaign that's not single issue at all"Senseless Acts of Beauty, George McKay.

 
"Protesting about new roads has become that rarest of British phenomena, a truly populist movement drawing supporters from all walks of life." The Economist, 19 February 1994

Although the majority of those involved were young radical & counter-cultural, there has always been support from mainstream society. Roads protests attracted support from across all age, social & political boundaries; school children to pensioners, working, middle & upper classes, Tory, Labour, Liberal & Greens. The M3/Twyford Down protest had considerable support from local Tories, while the M11 campaign established a model alliance between local people & experienced eco-campaigners.

The Newbury protest had very active support from peers and local self employed business people, while the M77/Pollok campaign was notable as an alliance of eco-radicals with the local working class community.

Historically, there has been a lack of involvement from ethnic communities. Both mainstream & counter cultural groups are aware of this, & the pattern is changing, though many ethnic communities have too many other, more pressing social problems to deal with.

  Winners and losers?

How do we measure the success of such a broad based campaign? Specific roads have been completed, but UK Government policy shifted considerably. In a memo allegedly leaked from the U.K. Dept. of Transport, Government civil servant Wenban-Smith admitted that the protests had been effective. Steven Norris, the Tory transport minister who approved the Newbury bypass, finally admitted that protesters were right to oppose the road building programme (Panorama, 17th March 1997).

  Key Campaigns

There are several campaigns which seem to me to be key turning points in the history of the movement.

M3/Twyford was where the radical 90's anti-road protest movement really started. EarthFirst! & the Dongas Tribe brought Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) to anti-road protest, & established a pattern for others to develop.The destruction of a place as beautiful as Twyford Down for the sake of a few minutes saved on a car journey disturbed many 'middle-Englanders', creating an sympathetic climate for the protests to come.

The M11 was a media coup for the protesters. Close to central London, & run by media aware, articulate & idealistic campaigners from a broad social mix, it hinged around a series of visual & imaginative 'situations', including the Chestnut Tree House, Wanstonia Free State, & the art street community of Claremont Road. The M11 campaigners invented or re-discovered many of the techniques used & developed by later campaigns; nets, tunnels, concrete lock-on points, 'Art Actions', etc.

The M11 was also significant as an urban campaign to protect a community of homes as well as trees, presaging the shift from a focus on the natural environment ( e.g. Twyford Down & Newbury) to more social/environmental campaigns (RTS/Dockers alliance).

Newbury was significant in that it's timing coincided with an attitude shift in the UK. Although the M11 & Twyford Down protests received considerable public support, Newbury almost became a mass movement. Friends of the Earth became very involved at Newbury - Far more so than at any similar campaign, as an alliance broken at Twyford was re-formed.

M77/Free State in Glasgow was significant in that it brought together eco-radicals with the local working class community. No-were else has this been achieved in quite the same way, & it remains an important development in what many saw as a middle class movement.

The A30 Fairmile protest was important in several ways: it was the first major protest against a privately funded, 'Design, Build Finance & Operate' (DBFO) road. It become dubbed 'the University of Road Protest', & was where tunnelling technology came into it's own.

Key Dates from 1989 to 1997

1989 : Government announces the "biggest road building scheme since the Romans"

1990: Thatcher resigns

December 1991: Government rejects EU appeals to reassess several road proposals

1992

February 1992: Start of direct action at Twyford

December 9, 1992: Violent eviction of Dongas Tribe at Twyford

1993

June 1993: Trees in Jesmond Dene, Newcastle occupied by the Flowerpot Tribe

July 4, 1993: Over 500 people invade Twyford site

September 13, 1993: M11 Construction starts. Contractors are greeted by 70 protesters

December 7, 1993: 200-year old tree in Wanstead felled after an 10-hour Battle of George Green

1994

January 1994: D.o.E. calls for increased spending on public transport

February 16, 1994: M11 'Autonomous Area of Wanstonia' evicted in an 11-hour operation by 700 police & bailiffs

March 14, 1994: Work starts on A46, Solsbury Hill, Bath

March 15 to April 15, 1994: Operation Roadblock, a month of daily M11 protest action

May 1994: Government sponsored research shows that more roads create more traffic

May 1994: First camp at Cuerden Valley Nature Park against M65

May 22, 1994: 1200 people march at Solsbury Hill

June 13, 1994: M11 camp Leytonstonia illegally evicted

July 2, 1994: Over 1500 people join a Mass Trespass against the Criminal Justice Bill at Twyford

July 1994: Government starts the 'Great Car Debate'

August 20, 1994: 'Pollok Free State' established in Glasgow

September 1994: Tree-felling began at A30, Devon

October 1994: Royal Commission on Transport & the Environment attacks 'Great Car Economy'

October 1994: Camps set up at Fairmile and Allercombe on A30 site

November 3, 1994: Criminal Justice Act became law. Mass trespassing of M11 construction site

November 28 to December 2, 1994: M11 Claremont Road eviction

December 19, 1994: Newbury bypass postponed

December 20, 1994: The Independent  newspaper wrote: "1994 was the year that the pro-roads lobby lost the ear of the Government"

1995

February 1, 1995: Construction work starts at Pollok Estate Glasgow

March 22, 1995: Eviction of 'Pollok Free State' starts

June 20, 1995: 'Munstonia', the last house on the M11 route evicted in a seven-hour operation

July 1995: Newbury bypass to go ahead.

September 5, 1995: M11 'GreenMania' camp evicted, after 10 hours of resistance

November 1995: Over 300 road schemes axed in 18 billion cutback, the biggest in 20 years

1996

August 1996: Government announces that traffic presents a serious health hazard

December 27, 1996: Allercombe camp (A30) evicted

1997

January 12, 1997: Eviction starts at 'Independent Free State of Trollheim' (A30)

January 23, 1997: Fairmile (A30) eviction starts

January 30, 1997: Last Fairmile protester evicted after 7 days underground

April 20, 1997: March for Social Justice

May 12, 1997: A320 Guildford to Woking road scheme scrapped

June 2, 1997: Fairmile camp in East Devon reoccupied & re-evicted

August 23, 1997: Start of 100 Days of Action against the oil industry

August 27, 1997: M11 Link Road raft action carried out by R.T.S. & the London Cycling Campaign stopped contractors constructing a bridge over the River Lee

September 29, 1997: Liverpool Dockers/RTS Mystery Tour

Send suggestions for updates to adrian@gn.apc.org

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related links: Twyford Down, M11 Link Road, Newbury, Stringers Common, Reclaim the Streets, 100 Days of Protest, A Corporate response
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