Newbury business chiefs to back protesters

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A group of leading Newbury businessmen will today declare their opposition to the town's controversial western bypass at a press conference organised with Friends of the Earth.

As contractors clearing the route of the bypass again failed to make significant progress yesterday, the executives said their MP, David Rendel, a Liberal Democrat, is misleading thepublic when he says that local industry and commerce in Berkshire overwhelmingly favour the controversial road.

They say the bypass will do little to ease congestion caused by dense local traffic, and may even make it worse in places.

One of them, an executive head hunter, Adrian Foster-Fletcher, spent three days with road protesters as they clashed with security guards last week.

A local managing director, Paul Carter, said several meetings and a questionnaire have shown many in the business community are unhappy about the nine- mile road leading through beautiful countryside and nature sites. He runs a computer company that employs 70.

Keith Berry, the managing director of another Newbury computer company, LanBase,which employs 50, said: "This new road is too high a price to pay. The countryside we've got here is special and needs looking after."

Clive Osborne, chairman of a group of electronics companies employing 200 in the town, said: "Common sense tells me that we can't go on like this."

The businessmen agree that the town needs relief from heavy traffic. A stream of juggernauts passes through on the A34 between the south coast ports and the Midlands, using a dual-carriageway bypass that was built in the Sixties.

Instead of a new road through open countryside, they favour improvements to the existing one. Fly-overs or underpasses ought to be built at the five roundabouts which slow the traffic flow, and possibly a toll tunnel ought to be dug under the River Kennet, to replace the bridge.

They believe the new by-pass will bring more housing, shopping and industrial sprawl to a town that has grown dramatically in the last 25 years, losing much of its character. "Why should it become like Slough?" said Mr Foster-Fletcher.

Just over a year ago, 50 executives heard Mr Rendel address a meeting of the Newbury Business Breakfast Club on the need for the western bypass, and voted unanimously against it. The club represents a cross- section of manufacturing and service industries in the town.

Late last year, three club members sent 500 copies of a questionnaire to local firms asking: "If a better route could be found, would you like it examined?" They received 140 responses, a high rate for a questionnaire, of which 110 were in favour.

Mr Rendel says most local bosses back the bypass. The local branch of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and the town's biggest commercial employer, Racal Vodafone, support it. "It was a question that was so biased and so pointed that I'm not surprised they got that response," Mr Rendel said.

"Polling suggests between one in six and one in eight Newbury people are against the new bypass, and I think the feeling will be the same among local business people."

No progress was made on the road yesterday because of thedemonstrators' protests. A chainsaw gang was forced to stop clearing trees at the southern end of the route after less than 30 minutes. There were 20 arrests, mostly for trespass. During the past week fewer than 400 of about 10,000 trees on the route have been felled.