Have you lost the plot?; A three-part series that explains the issues behind the news

What does the battle of Newbury mean?
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The Independent Online
The plot: the Newbury bypass protest polarises opinion. Are the massed ranks of protestors a bunch of dole-scrounging layabouts failing to bow to the inevitable? Or is this a last symbolic stand for nature in the face of tarmac-laying barbarian hordes?

There is no doubt that there is a traffic problem in Newbury, but the opposition suggests there are other ways of dealing with it, such as improving the existing route. Supporters of the scheme say the alternatives would be costly and disruptive.

The prospects: the row over Newbury is illustrative of the much wider debate on roads policy: this reached a turning point last year when plans for a 14-lane M25 were scrapped in the face of vehement opposition. The battle over the Newbury bypass, however, may well be the last such confrontation for some time, since the Government's national roads programme has been cut back so drastically that the bypass is the only big controversial scheme expected to start over the next year.

Gone are the days when roads were seen as the salvation of the economy. Now the Treasury has taken a keen interest in whether the programme is value for money and has cut the programme from pounds 2.1bn per year to under pounds 1.8bn and still falling.

Moreover, ministers are now talking about finding ways of restricting traffic growth and encouraging people to use other methods of travel than the motor car. The results of a national transport debate launched by the former Transport Secretary, Brian Mawhinney, last year are expected to be published soon and will point the way to the future direction of policy. Whatever its findings, the notion of a great car economy, fuelled by an ever-expanding network, has gone for ever. Road pricing, smart roads using the latest technology, measures to restrain car traffic and encourage bus use, boosting cycle use, and a number of other measures will all be on the agenda.

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