WAKE UP!! WAKE UP!! It's yer glam rock antifascist...
The free weekly direct action newsheet published in Brighton since 1994 - Copyleft - Information for Action
What is it with Tories and roads? The anti-road protests of the nineties resulted in the abandonment of flagship road plans under a wave of negative publicity and the birth of a concerted direct action movement which fought the establishment 'til the bitter end. Fast forward 20 years and the fight is back on.
As SchNEWS reported earlier in the year, while councils have cuts jobs, essential services and more pointedly public transport infrastructure, road building plans capitalising on central government development funds, along with local authority funding, are being forced through. Several of the forthcoming multi-million projects, such as the Bexhill bypass in Sussex and Devon's Kingskerswell bypass have been bitterly opposed by local communities for years.
Last weekend (September 29-30th), campaigners pledging to resist the first and most destructive of the new roads programme, in Bexhill, set up camp. Around 200 protesters descended on one of the most tranquil, beautiful – and now endangered – tracts of land in the South East, the Combe Haven Valley. Veteran road protesters from M11, Twyford and Newbury campaigns mixed with Friends of the Earth/CPRE supporters, anti- badger cull activists, redundant Occupy-ers, and those opposing the squat ban.
John Stewart, nineties roads protester and anti-Heathrow third runway campaigner said: “It’s the eleventh hour. This is our chance to put a line in the sand by stopping this road. It’s a pointless road, George Osborne’s expensive toy. The Dept of Transport have given it a low profile [they recently refused to release parts of a report critical of the scheme]. It’s the Treasury and Osborne saying – ‘let’s build infrastructure no matter the environmental cost’.”
Now that the £120m scheme has been green-lighted, excavations and archaeological exploratory work has begun, via an access track north east of Glovers Lane. East Sussex County Council hope the proper work can begin in January 2013, on higher ground away from the county’s largest reed bed and nearby water meadows.
The council claims the 3-mile bypass would take traffic away from the bottle-necked A259 and reduce journey times by five minutes. What they don't mention is that the car-happy plans will increase overall traffic in the area by 14% at a time when Arctic ice is melting quicker than a Cornetto. They’re also aiming to promote the building of between 1-4,000 homes and an industrial park. Tory to the core for over a decade, councillors have been browbeating residents and campaigners over this for even longer. The current Bexhill MP, and Minister for Climate Change (you couldn’t make it up), Greg Barker is backing them to the hilt.
If it goes ahead the winners in all this will include Trinity College Cambridge, which owns land on part of the route, as well as privately-owned Glovers and Worsham Farms which are set to make a mint. Bidwells Housing developers, also based in Cambs, is behind the proposed housing developments. A local resident at the camp reckoned the road was merely an access road for “a new town with a new reservoir planned and executed using EU development grants, which will benefit landowners”.
Campaigners are saying loud and clear that brownfield sites should be used 11% and 16% of business sites, in Hastings and Bexhill respectively, lie empty – and not pristine landscape which the council even states on its own website is ‘probably the finest medium sized valley in East Sussex’. Er, why are you building on it then? Campaigners also point out that the £120m could be spent on public transport options which haven’t been fully considered – a new station at Glynde Gap has been recommended but ignored twice now, in 2002 and 2004.
Derrick Coffee of Hastings Alliance said: “The number of jobs to be created by the road has been exaggerated and many of these would be taken by people outside Hastings anyway, or just be existing jobs moving out of town damaging the town centre economy. This valley is being put needlessly under threat. For 4,000 years, since the Bronze Age, nature and the landscape has been respected, now we face 30,000 vehicles coming through here per day. The £120m price tag is 500% more than the 2002 £24m estimate. What else can we do with £120m? – well the NHS, schools...”
He and others in the Alliance are in the High Court at the time of writing (Friday 5th) to see if their call for a Judicial review – the last chance for a legal delay – has been granted. If it is then that could put a spanner in the works for road builders looking to start construction in January, delaying them by up to a year. Currently the Transport Secretary has confirmed the orders for compulsory purchase of the land, with just a six-week consultation period in place.
The department was planning on having all the legal permissions done and dusted by December, and any delaying tactics are expected to pay off – as they did in previous anti-road campaigns. One Brighton veteran of the Birmingham Toll Road campaign explained the long view: “There aren’t just simple victories and defeats there are degrees of success and failure which includes delays which rack up costs – with Birmingham Toll Road (2002) it was built but there have been no toll roads built since then.”
Lessons from the old school also include the fact roads have been stopped in critical last moments, as the destruction was set to begin. Oxleas Wood in Shooters Hill, south London was saved in July 1993 just before the bulldozers were due, after two public inquiries went in favour of the six-lane proposals. This was mainly because the government didn’t have the stomach for another direct action roads campaign following on from the protracted Twyford Down débâcle.
Stewart talked of the overall success of Nineties anti-roads campaigns: “In 1989 there were 600 road schemes on the government’s books; by 1997 only 150 had been built, the rest stopped by various forms of local and national campaigning.”
Workshops at the Bexhill weekend reached the consensus that the best way to spook the government and stop the road programme dead would be to get localised protest to go national. Look out Osborne, Swampy II’s coming...
For info, Better Transport’s map of the new tranche of roads planned for the UK:
Combe Haven Defenders: http://combehavendefenders.wordpress.com/
On Tuesday 16th October at 9.30am there'll be a demo outside County Hall, Lewes, E.Sussex.
On November 3rd, Better Transport are holding a national conference for road protesters in Birmingham:
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