Protest jams cities and motorways gr; WHERE DRIVERS BLOCKED THE ROADS

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF lorry drivers jammed motorways and blocked city centres across Britain yesterday in the latest protest at big rises in road and fuel taxes.

In an unlikely alliance, truckers, pig farmers and taxi drivers converged on central London, causing traffic chaos and turning some roads into giant lorry parks.

Manchester city centre was brought to a standstill and lorries crowded into Edinburgh, Exeter, Plymouth, Newcastle, Truro and Middlesbrough. Motorways suffered major congestion, with the M1, M2, M4, M25 and M56 brought to a standstill by large numbers of trucks and police escorts.

In London a delegation of truckers marched on 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition, demanding urgent talks to resolve the crisis. But the Government rejected their demands, saying for the second time that it would not be "held to ransom" by protest action.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned that hundreds of small hauliers and family firms would be put out of business unless the Government backed down.

The RHA chairman, John Bridge, told the truckers: "We are all here because we are devastated by the way that the Government has treated our industry - destroying us in a way that means in a year's time many of you will not be here at all, which is unacceptable."

He said that huge rises in vehicle excise duty and diesel duty were allowing continental hauliers, using environmentally unfriendly vehicles, to undercut British firms.

"The Government are destroying our industry and destroying small family businesses that have been going for many years and causing enormous personal anguish when people are losing their homes and everything that they have spent their entire lives working for.

"We are going to go on and fight and fight and fight until common sense prevails."

The protests were co- ordinated by Trans-action, a group set up in protest at the Budget measures. Frank Stears, an organiser, said some drivers were so angry that they were prepared to mount a Channel ports blockade.

"If we don't hear anything this week we will have talks about future action, but we don't know what it would be yet. Others want to take more drastic action, such as a blockade, which I don't want because it will upset everyone in the UK."

He said he was not asking the Government to rewrite the Budget but to hold talks with truckers. After a similar protest in London in February, the Government set up a forum of transport and Treasury ministers and heads of the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association.

But ministers refused to meet Mr Stears, prompting the RHA to switch its allegiance to Trans-action. Mr Stears said: "Let's have talks with Trans-action. Why not ask the people who actually do the job?"

John Reid, the Transport minister, condemned the truckers for "inflicting misery on the public rather than pursuing useful discussions". He said the Government had responded by setting up the industry forum. "The taxpayer cannot be expected to hand an open cheque to the road haulage industry. We will continue to work with the industry, but neither the Government nor the public will be held to ransom."

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association said that some 1,000 cabbies had joined in the protest. "The continual increase in fuel prices is having the effect of a tax on taxi journeys," said a spokesman.

The National Farmers Union said that fuel tax rises were the latest blow to the pig industry following tougher welfare standards.

The issue has started to attract support from extreme right-wing groups. The British National Party was handing out leaflets yesterday.