Magazine article Alternatives Journal

English Road Opponents Turn to Direct Action

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

English Road Opponents Turn to Direct Action

Article excerpt

English anti-road campaigners took to living in trees and tunnels ten feet under the ground earlier this year in a last ditch effort to block the construction of a new highway outside Newbury in Berkshire.

Advocates of the Newbury bypass claim it is needed to alleviate serious traffic problems in the area. But environmental organizations, including

Friends of the Earth, say most of the traffic is local, and the bypass will only have a marginal effect. They predict that by the year 2002, the traffic levels will be back to where they are now.

The bypass will cut through three officially recognized Sites of Special Scientific Interest and two archaeological sites in some of Britain's most beautiful countryside. To prevent this, anti-road campaigners blockaded the road route from above and below.

Hundreds of road opponents camped along the bypass route. But working on the principle that people are more difficult to remove when they are off the ground, protesters also built a network of tree-houses, 30 metres above the ground in oak trees along the route of the proposed road. These were not just makeshift shelters; some had glass windows, pine walls, and chrome-style chimneys.

To make evictions even more difficult, road opponents built tunnels three metres under the main camp. When the bailiffs came, some protesters blocked themselves into these tunnels, which contained enough food for a month.

Activists not comfortable 30 metres in the air or three metres underground handcuffed themselves to the middle of huge blocks of concrete called "lock-ons". Glass, rubber and metal were mixed in with the concrete to hinder the bailiffs' drills. It can take more than seven hours to remove a locked-on activist.

Organizers of the blockade say the direct action approach was necessary because English authorities failed to carry out a proper environmental impact assessment of the bypass and other credible alternatives such as better traffic management and public transport.

"If nothing else we're going to slow them down by months, and that being the case then we're going to have the chance to have a much bigger political debate about the costs of transport versus protection of the environment," said Tony Juniper, deputy campaigns director of Friends of the Earth. …

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