Activists to go underground in last-ditch battle

Green groups plan biggest campaign in Britain, writes Danny Penman
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The Independent Online
A network of tunnels will serve as the protesters' last stand against the bulldozers at Newbury. The ground beneath Snelsmore Common, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is riddled with them, and they even have their own air, water, food and electricity supplies.

Tunnels and bunkers were used to slow down the eviction of Claremont Road, in east London, which lay in the path of the M11. The eviction of Claremont Road, which began a year ago today, lasted nearly five days and cost pounds 4m.

There are four other camps in the path of the Newbury bypass, and each one is well placed to cost the contractors and the Government tens of thousands of pounds before the eviction is complete. However, the camps will only play a small part in the campaign to stop the Newbury bypass.

For the last five months, the three main groups involved in the campaign, Road Alert!, the Third Battle of Newbury, and Friends of the Earth, have been laying plans for the biggest anti-roads confrontation so far seen in Britain.

All previous direct action campaigns against new roads began after the bulldozers moved in. In Newbury, the protesters will have had severalmonths in which to prepare, before the contractors start even to clear the path for the road.

Protests against the M3 extension at Twyford Down cost the contractors and the Government pounds 4m. The continuingcampaigns against the M11 in east London, the M65 in Lancashire and the Batheaston bypass have so far cost almost pounds 20m and the total is rising rapidly. The coalition of groups opposed to the A34 intends to add significantly to this total and they are adamant that they can, and will, stop the road.

They have been building food dumps, organising soup kitchens, scrounging miles of rope and begging and borrowing climbing equipment and motorcycle D-locks, which they will use to chain themselves to equipment. They have also set up a communications system designed by a sympathetic ex-US naval engineer, and have organised teams of lawyers to cope with the expected arrests.

Friends of the Earth has set up a site on the World Wide Web that allows users from across the world to view pictures of the route, zoom into different parts of it and see an assessment of its scientific and environmental value.

Road Alert! has been touring the country and mobilising support from local environmental groups. The group believes it can mobilise "several thousand people" within a few hours of work beginning on the bypass.

The groups object to the nine-mile stretch of road because it will cut through the rivers Kennet and the Lambourn, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that were designated last week, plus a Civil War battlefield and Snelsmore Common, which is also an SSSI.

It will also destroy heaths, bogs, water meadows and ancient woodlands.

Planning applications have been lodged for 5,000 houses between the town's boundaries and the bypass.

The protesters face a formidable task. The bypass lobby has been working hard to ensure the road is built, and has called for support from the British Roads Federation, the Freight Transport Association, Hampshire and Berkshire County Councils and Vodaphone, which is Newbury's largest employer. The lobby group says that the bypass is necessary to reduce the transit time across the town from 40 minutes to 10. Newbury District Council says it will reduce pollution and boost prosperity.

The council describes the present road as "the worst traffic jam in southern England".

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